November 28, 2014

Elyria
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$2.55 million went to defunct charter schools

COLUMBUS – Ohio charter school operators were given $2.55 million in state and federal planning grants to start 33 schools that were never opened – nearly 10 percent of the 352 grants that have been issued by the state, state records showed.

The $2.55 million doesn`t include planning funds given to schools that opened and later closed, The Columbus Dispatch reported Sunday.

The Ohio Department of Education is trying to recover $1.56 million from 19 schools that either misspent start-up grants or were unable to document how the money was spent, the newspaper said. About $3,600 has so far been repaid.

Spending education money that never reaches students is more evidence that Ohio`s charter-school program doesn`t work, said Ohio Federation of Teachers president Sue Taylor.

“I hold the state of Ohio accountable for this very lax system,” she said. “This is a huge, huge abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

But it`s likely that in most cases, the work required to open charter schools just overwhelmed some operators, said Todd Hanes, executive director of the department`s Office of Community Schools. He said he doesn`t believe anyone took grants not intending to open a school.

Buying books, desks and upgrades to the computers can cost a lot of money, said Terry Ryan, a vice president at the Washington-D.C.-based Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which supports charter schools.

But taxpayers shouldn`t be the only ones taking a financial risk in creating charter schools – school operators should be required to put up their own money as well, he said.

The Education Department is in the middle of an audit of all Ohio start-up grant recipients that have received federal planning and implementation money in the last three years. The audit should be completed next summer, Hanes said.

Akron-based Summit Academy Schools, which runs 27 schools in Ohio for children needing special education classes, received the most out of the grantees listed in the records – nearly $895,000 to open five schools. State records showed that the schools did not go into operation.

A message seeking comment was left Sunday at the schools` administrative office.

The now-defunct Harte Crossroads charter schools owes $1 million in federal money – the most out of those operations from which the state is trying to recoup money, the Dispatch reported.

Harte Crossroads should have been given $900,000 in federal grants, but were mistakenly issued an additional $100,000, Hanes said. The schools have not been able to document how the money was spent, he said.

Harte Crossroads schools closed in March with $1.6 million in debt, and the state auditor has declared their books unauditable. The schools have not been able to find 44 new computers, the newspaper said.

A telephone number listed for Harte Crossroads had been disconnected.