Wednesday, January 27, 2016

GUEST COLUMN: Ohio Education Dept. Scandal



A classic television game show that premiered in the early 1950s, and was revived a few times for new audiences, might have booked Ohio Gov. John Kasich in a heartbeat. The show was called I’ve Got a Secret. 
It featured celebrity guests with something to hide. Panelists would ask questions and search for clues to guess the secret. 

Gov. Kasich has a secret. He hides it well as he peddles his plain-spoken, real-deal, son-of-a-mailman sales pitch as a Republican presidential candidate in New Hampshire.
The secret is secure with Kasich loyalists. Mr. Kasich is mum about the details, but a left-leaning blog with an emphasis on Ohio and national politics is on the right track. Plunderbund suggests “a scandal begging to be born” is bubbling in the governor’s home state.
Out-of-state media are oblivious to the disgrace at the Ohio Department of Education. Team Kasich has effectively kept the story under wraps on the campaign trail.
But there’s no excuse for the largely apathetic in-state coverage of all the dirt swept under the rug by the Kasich administration to hide education fraud at ODE. Top officials at the department — handpicked by Governor Kasich to advance privatization of public schools — presided over illegal activities last summer.
Former ODE school choice director David Hansen, the man in charge of charter school oversight, engaged in a fraudulent scheme to boost the evaluations of some charters. Mr. Hansen, whose wife worked as the governor’s chief of staff until she left to manage his presidential campaign, admitted scrubbing data on failing online and dropout recovery-charters to improve their standing in the state.
Some outraged state school board members charged Mr. Hansen with breaking the law and demanded an impartial investigation. Team Kasich quashed that notion and contained the political damage.
Then-state superintendent Richard Ross professed no prior knowledge of the fraud perpetrated on his watch by his subordinate to promote an administration mandate. Unexplained is why Mr. Ross forwarded Mr. Hansen’s falsified data to the U.S. Department of Education for funding, despite the controversy over his cooked books.
ODE’s discredited charter czar quietly resigned from the department, followed by the retirement of the superintendent months later. The department that had allowed the data scam to proceed in a calculated move for public dollars — without regard for educational accountability — vowed to enact internal reforms. No need for outside scrutiny.
Chagrined state lawmakers who were previously in no hurry to pass charter school reform, finally approved legislation to take the heat off Mr. Kasich. The changes will only be meaningful if they are implemented by the Kasich people running the ODE.
Public education advocates aren’t holding their breath for wholesale reform of the charter school industry in Ohio, which is fine with the Kasich administration. It pushed a potential political liability off the radar to let Mr. Kasich spin on the campaign trail without distraction.
But the candidate is trying to hide other dirt. The Kasich chiefs at ODE, who were required by law to judge charter school sponsors with the same academic and administrative performance criteria used for traditional public schools, broke that law. The GOP power brokers who control Ohio lined up to protect the governor and let the ODE fraud slide.
From State Auditor Dave Yost, one of Mr. Kasich’s campaign co-chairs in the state, to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, who prosecuted similar data scrubbing in Columbus City Schools, top Republican officials are reluctant to pursue acknowledged fraud at the highest levels of the state education department.
To do so might compromise political careers and ambitions in a crucial election year. But Prosecutor O’Brien has no reason not to initiate a grand jury investigation of the ODE affair.
Providing cover for partisans caught in the political crossfire, instead of holding them accountable for violating the public trust, does not serve justice. Mr. Kasich has political insurance that insulates him from the fallout of a corrupt charter school industry that has thrived under his leadership, and forfeited the futures of thousands of poorly educated children.
New Englanders may not know the candidate’s secret, but it’s out in the open here.

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