State Auditor Conducts Surprise Attendance Count at Charter Schools

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by Andy Chow

Auditor Dave Yost has said he wants to keep tabs on charter schools and their reported attendance, since those schools get state funding based on the number of students they have enrolled and attending classes.

On one day in 2014, he ordered staffers to show up at charter schools for surprise visits to take attendance. Yost said then that those pop-ins found nearly half the schools had the number of students they told the state they did.

Yost’s staff did another round of surprise visits to charter schools in November. Thirty charter schools audited posted attendance rates ranging from one at 29% all the way to 99%. Nearly all were above 73%. Their traditional school counterparts have attendance rates between 75% and 99%.

But Yost is concerned about the 14 dropout recovery and prevention schools that were visited this school year.  None of them had more than half the amount of students that were supposed to be in attendance.

Most troubling to Yost were the handful of schools that had attendance rates dropping to about 20 or 30%.  “And this is clearly indicative of -- it needs to be addressed,” Yost said.

Chad Aldis, with the pro-charter school group the Fordham Institute, says the state needs to set standards for these dropout schools.

“If a bad one is at 20% then 50% is knocking it out of the park," Aldis said. "But without a standard in place we don’t know if they should be performing at 60% in which case all of them would be below average so we do need to wrap our heads around it.”

Yost’s office referred three schools to the Ohio Department of Education for improperly operating as e-schools.

During his report, Yost made it a point to call out several problems he believes are plaguing the Ohio Department of Education, which oversees charter schools along with traditional public schools.

Yost says ODE gets bogged down by serving too many functions. Yost suggests that issues like school funding and evaluation could be handled by different departments.

“I’m in a position having been in all the departments to be able to tell you frankly that ODE is among the worst, if not the worst-run state agency in state government.”

But Yost says it’s up to the Legislature to decide if they want to consider his suggestions to redistribute the duties of the department.

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