Columnist: Could charter school scandal weaken the Kasich campaign?

By John A. Tures - Contributing columnist

By John A. Tures

Contributing columnist

Ohio Gov. John Kasich got some good news as he made the cut for the Fox News debate. He’s also been rising in the polls. But a charter school scandal in Ohio could derail the Kasich 2016 Campaign.

During the 2014 election, three of Kasich’s top donors were charter school operator David Brennan and his wife, Ann, and Brennan’s company CEO, all who donated thousands of dollars to the Ohio Governor’s re-election (as noted by the Columbus Dispatch), enabling him to swamp his Democratic rival in fundraising, and later, votes.

Kasich’s opponent, Ed FitzGerald, claimed that the Republican had cut money from public schools to give to charter schools which were allegedly performing poorly. His ads even claimed that White Hat Management, another charter school operation, donated thousands of dollars to Kasich in 2010, and got to write the charter school law. But Kasich easily bested his opponent in a good year for Republicans across the country, and Ohio.

After his re-election, Kasich vowed to clean up charter schools, the targets of investigations for a series of corruption scandals and poor academic performance, even as he announced his support for such education institutions.

In addition, Kasich claimed he would regulate charter schools, independently run schools with taxpayer money, providing a site where viewers could compare the performance of charter schools and public schools.

Despite the concerns over the scandals and academic struggles, Kasich pushed to reward the charter schools with the prospect increased funding, to upgrade their facilities, with increases in the number of charter schools and their budgets, heading well above a billion dollars, in 2015.

A Washington Post report reveals that Kasich slashed public school funding by half a billion dollars, boosting state spending on charter schools, despite the quality concerns. In fact, Ohio now spends more per charter school pupil than it does for public school student, while costs have been passed on to local governments just to keep their schools open.

Fears about the quality of charter schools in Ohio began to unnerve even charter school advocates. Their concerns were evidently warranted.

According to the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, “David Hansen, the agency’s director of school choice, resigned last month after admitting he left off poor grades for online and dropout-recovery schools on evaluations of their charter-school sponsors. His wife, Beth Hansen, is Gov. John Kasich’s former chief of staff and current campaign manager for his 2016 presidential run.”

Members of the State Board of Education have demanded an independent investigation of the Department of Education, something the state auditor and the head of the board have so far resisted. They have also targeted Kasich’s state school superintendent pick.

As a result, Kasich has chosen to not to mention charter schools very much on the campaign trail, an odd choice given their importance to his Ohio legacy. Looking over Kasich’s website, you won’t find any mention of charter schools either, or his education policies.

Charter schools can work, of course. Two of my former employers started up fine ones in their community, and there’s a good one being proposed for LaGrange, Georgia. But the unregulated Ohio ones could cost the state, and a budding presidential candidate, plenty.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at [email protected]

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College. He may be reached at [email protected]

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