Charter School Supporters Rally as State Investigation Widens

Photo: Andy Chow
Photo: Andy Chow
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Parents and teachers told the Ohio State Board of Education that the recent string of accusations against the Horizon Science Academies is becoming a distraction to student education.

Shahrazad Ali, whose grandson is a freshman at the Horizon Science Academy in Cincinnati, went as far as saying that opponents of charter schools are conducting a “witch hunt.”

“We are expected to make the same progress as an institution, of the regular public schools who’ve been around almost 400 years," Ali said. "Charter schools have been around for 15 years. That’s an unfair advantage they have over us, and they have that big powerful union that fights for them and puts out propaganda.”

In July a group of teachers who used to work at the Horizon school in Dayton told the state school board they witnessed racism, sexism and questionable testing policies. They also said administrators did not take proper disciplinary measures after students were allegedly caught performing sexual acts.

Casanova Green is an alumna and now a teacher at the Horizon Science Academy in Columbus. This is one of the schools now under a probe by the Ohio department of education due to a complaint of testing irregularities.

Green said his school follows strict testing protocols.

“What we do in our building is teach," he said. "The goal of education is to build people who are capable and competent citizens of our society. And what I see on a daily basis is education. I cannot speak for our counterparts in Dayton and what they do. But for my building, we teach.”

Brian Rothenberg with Progress Ohio, a coalition of liberal groups, recognized the supporters’ praise of charter schools, but said the state report cards tell a different story.

“Take it at face value what people say," he said, "but at the same time the state just recently released a report card and every single school got Ds or Fs for graduation rates.”

Rothenberg also took issue with the idea that an investigation into these charter schools is somehow a distraction.

“I think that’s ridiculous," he said. "I mean the fact of the matter is all the noise is an investigation into the irregularities that have happened. Allegations of cheating on tests, allegations of student misconduct, allegations that students were treated wrong. I mean all these things are very serious charges.”

Matt Dole is a spokesperson for the Blue Ribbon Friends group, a coalition of charter school supporters. He said the recent scrutiny is politically driven.

“It’s important to keep in perspective that the (state) board of education is a political body," he said. "It’s an election year. And they’re feeling pressure to investigate these schools because Progress Ohio and the teachers unions feel like they can get a foot in the door against school choice by targeting this group of schools.”

For years Democratic lawmakers have called on charter schools to face more accountability and transparency.

Dole argued that the current law gives charters more flexibility when needed.

“When the charter school law passed in Ohio, they were specifically given more leniency in a lot of areas than traditional public schools for exactly the reason that they need to be nimble," he said. " And so I think if the legislature wants to look at that it now that we’re a few years into it, that’s the legislature’s prerogative.”

There are currently bills in the House and Senate that would require more transparency for charters. Those measures have not moved forward in committee.

The Chicago-based company Concept Schools manages about 20 Horizon and Nobel Academies in Ohio. It’s currently under investigation by the FBI for possible improper use of funding.

A version of this story that aired said Rothenberg wanted charters to be subjected to state audits. In fact, charters do undergo state financial audits. Rothenberg was calling for audits to provide a more detailed accounting of charters' use of money.

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