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Ohio Foundation Faces Pressure to Shutter Charters Under FBI, State Scrutiny

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Updated

A group of activists are calling for a chain of Ohio charter schools that have been under both FBI and state investigations to be shut down.

February 1 is the deadline for all state sponsors—the entities that authorize and oversee charter schools—to decide whether to renew charter contracts for the independently run but publicly funded schools.

Representatives from the Cleveland Teachers' Union; the Ohio Parent Teachers Association; and Policy Matters Ohio, a research and advocacy organization; are pressuring the Columbus-based Buckeye Community Hope Foundation not to renew nine charter contracts for Concept Schools, a charter management company. 

Concept Schools, which runs campuses in Illinois and Indiana as well as Ohio, has been at the center of its fair share of controversy since last summer. Details from a July Cincinnati Enquirer story:

"[Nineteen] Ohio charter schools managed by Chicago-based Concept Schools are under investigation by state officials. Both the Department of Education and Ohio Auditor Dave Yost launched investigations after former teachers and a student at the Horizon Dayton school made complaints to the State Board of Education about alleged sexual misconduct and tampering with test and attendance records."

And the Akron Beacon Journal reported in June that Concept Schools had also been previously investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor for hiring foreign workers:

"Ohio audits found that public money for the schools had been used improperly for visas. Concept received more visas for immigrant workers than Google in 2009, and many of the school's employees are of Turkish descent. Most of the nonprofit schools' board members in Northeast Ohio are male and of Turkish descent."

"I think this represents the first time we've seen a trifecta of bad behavior from a charter school operator," Amy Hanauer of Policy Matters Ohio said during a call with reporters. "Clearly, these ... schools should not be renewed."

Policy Matters, along with its coalition partners, sent a letter to Buckeye Community Hope Foundation saying just that.

"Buckeye Community Hope Foundation does not base its sponsorship decisions on unproven allegations - that would be grossly inappropriate and unfair to countless students who attend the schools managed by Concept Schools," Peggy Young, the director of Buckeye's education division, said in an email. "We implement a comprehensive performance accountability and compliance monitoring system that provides the information necessary to make these rigorous and standards based renewal, and intervention decisions."

This situation in Ohio represents a bigger shift in the state and nationally.

Charter schools have long endured criticism from skeptics who say they misuse taxpayer dollars. But the laws and sponsors, often called authorizers, that govern charter schools are facing more and more scrutiny.

It's a trend that's even welcomed by some in the charter school movement in Ohio and beyond who fear sensational headlines, like those generated by the Concept Schools investigations, will undermine the sector at large.

The Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education reform think tank and advocacy organization, recently commissioned a well-known third party research group, the Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes, to examine the Ohio's charters. (The Fordham Institute's Ohio-based sister-organization, the Fordham Foundation, sponsors some schools in the state.)

CREDO researchers found that Ohio charter school students, on average, learn less in a year than their peers in regular, district schools. Following the release of those results, Ohio governor John Kasich has called for a rewrite of the state's charter law.

"I think it's pretty clear unless you've been living under a rock, Ohio has had its fair share of troubles for a long time," said David Quolke with the Cleveland Teachers' Union on the call with reporters. "Even the stories of the successful charter schools tend to get drowned out by stories of FBI raids and corruption."

This post has been updated to include a statement from Peggy Young and, following a corrected statement from Policy Matters Ohio, to change the number of charter school contract renewals the coalition is seeking to have denied from 11 to nine.

Related:

How to Close a Charter School: Advice From Three States

More States Create Independent Charter-Approval Boards

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