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Charter School Management Company White Hat Only Applicant for New School Spots it Lobbied For

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Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 3:08 PM

Brittney Le Blanc / Flickr

Akron-based White Hat Management, one of Ohio's largest for-profit charter school management companies, lobbied to expand the number of charter schools in Ohio and to once again give the Ohio Department of Education the ability to sponsor charter schools.

They were successful: The state budget enacted in June gave the Ohio Department of Education the ability to sponsor up to five new charter schools each year for the next five years.

Now White Hat is currently the only applicant for the new Ohio Department of Education-sponsored charter school spots.

[audio href="" title="Company Applies to Open New Charter Schools"]White Hat Management could open as many as five new schools in 2012.[/audio]

White Hat has submitted applications for six schools to be under Ohio Department of Education sponsorship, company vice president Rodd Coker said:

  • A K-8 school focused on science, technology, engineering and math in Cuyahoga County;
  • Dropout recovery programs in Warrensville Heights and southern Cincinnati; and
  • K-8 schools in Akron, Columbus and Toledo.

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A charter school sponsor is a non-profit organization or public educational entity whose main job is to provide a charter school with technical administrative support. That includes doing things like verifying that the school complies with state health and safety laws and insurance requirements. A sponsor is also supposed to monitor its schools’ academic and financial performance.

A sponsor is different from a management company. Most charter school management companies receive upwards of 90 percent of their charter schools' state funding. In return, they hire teachers, buy materials and generally manage the school's operations.
The paperwork to establish the non-profit organizations that would receive the actual school charters was filed last December.

White Hat's Coker said in an email that the company regularly talks with people about starting new charter schools:

We continually receive requests from community members and organizations who express a need or desire to provide school choice in their communities.  We conduct preliminary research with the interested parties to determine the viability of operating a school in their community.  A number of factors are examined.  If it is determined that a viable choice can be provided, we assist the interested group with selecting a sponsor and preparing an application.

White Hat's plans for new schools come amid news that White Hat is struggling to make loan payments and has seen declining enrollment at some of its schools. The company is also being sued by the boards of several of the schools it operates. The boards want White Hat to release financial information about their schools' operations.

In response to emailed questions, Coker didn't directly address questions about whether efforts to open additional schools were a response to the company's financial struggles. He wrote:

The growing number of choices being offered by other community schools and school districts has impacted enrollment, but we believe the increased number of educational approaches and models provides parents with greater opportunities to find the education solution that best fits their child/children. ... Lower enrollment impacts finances for all schools and school districts. We must adjust, as do all others, in order to continue to provide a quality choice.

The Ohio Department of Education will make a decision on whether to sponsor the new White Hat schools by mid-January, spokesperson Patrick Gallaway said. Gallaway said the department expects to sponsor five new charter schools, the maximum number allowed by the state budget bill.

(In addition to the five new schools, the department can also sponsor up to 15 existing charter schools.The department expects to start receiving sponsorship applications from existing schools soon, Gallaway said.)

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At one time, the Ohio Department of Education was the state's largest charter-school sponsor. Legislators took away the department's ability to sponsor charter schools in 2005, after a report from then-state Auditor Jim Petro criticized the department and the state Board of Education for not taking "a leadership role in monitoring, promoting or assisting" charter schools. Petro wrote:

Compared to other Charter School Law states, Ohio community schools have a failure rate twice the national average. In most cases, community school problems and closures occur because of financial problems or mismanagement, which is consistent with national trends.

Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools President Bill Sims said the state budget's removal of some limits on charter schools sponsorship for other organizations, as well as that the fact that the state department is new -- this time around -- to charter school sponsorship could be behind the lack of applicants for the new charter school spots:

This isn't a knock on ODE [the Ohio Department of Education], but if ODE hasn't been in the business for a while, a charter startup is probably going to be interested in going with a sponsor that has been in existence for a while, has a proven track record, and has developed the resources and technical support that are going to be necessary to develop the right kind of partnership in building a successful school.

The Ohio Department of Education didn't ask to start sponsoring charter schools again, Sims said. But:

Now that they have that new responsibility I'm confident that they have learned lessons ... and that they'll do a good job w. the schools they sponsor.

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