Sunday, Nov 19, 2017
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Ohio auditor blasts education department in charter-school enrollment audit

COLUMBUS — Ohio Auditor Dave Yost today said the state Department of Education is “among the worst, if not the worst, state-run agency” as he rolled out his second audit examining attendance at charter schools.

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Yost

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The department has too many missions to do its core mission of overseeing public schools justice, he said.

“It’s scattershot,” he said. “They’re supposed to do everything about everything. I think the time has come to sharpen the focus of their mission.”

He complained that the agency was slow in responding to requests for data used in the audit.

Auditors in Mr. Yost’s office made surprise visits to 44 randomly selected charter schools on Nov. 9. It marked the auditor’s second look at whether the number of students physically in seats at community, or charter, schools matched the schools’ reported enrollment to the state.

Charter schools are public schools that receive state funding but are not subject to the same level of regulation as traditional K-12 schools.

The results in this attendance audit were more promising than in the first released early last year. Seven percent of the schools were found to be severely below reported attendance numbers compared to 23 percent in the 2015 audit based on fall of 2014 inspections.

But Mr. Yost again voiced concerns about attendance at dropout recovery schools. Such schools are often the last resort to keep problem students from dropping out of the system altogether.

Among the 14 dropout schools examined was Toledo’s Glass City Academy, sponsored by the Education Services Center of Lake Erie West. Seventy-eight students were found to be in attendance on the day of the spot inspection compared to the 237 enrollment figure reported to the state last November.

Stewart Jesse, Glass City’s director, said he’s not happy about the low rate of attendance, but that it,is a reflection of what the school is all about.

“While 78 is not a great number, it’s better than 10 percent,” he said. “Dropout students are students who traditionally do not do well in public schools. Attendance is usually their problem. Dropout out recovery centers are a special breed.”

He said students who attend the school have often already failed at traditional public schools and other on-site or Internet charter schools. The official enrollment for the school has dropped to 187 since November, partly because some students were removed for missing more than 105 hours of school, he said.

While Mr. Yost acknowledged the dropout schools’ tough mission, he said,”50 percent and under doesn’t pass the smell test for me as a taxpayer.”

The auditor referred three schools to the Department of Education for possible action, primarily because they were functioning as hybrids of on-site and Internet-based education, something not provided for under state law. They were Urbana Community School, London Academy, and Utica Shale Academy of Ohio in Columbiana County.

“The department is currently implementing Ohio’s new community school sponsor evaluation system, which is one of the most transparent and comprehensive in the country,” DOE spokesman Brittany Halpin said in a prepared statement.“This, and other measures included in Ohio’s community school reform bill, significantly strengthens the accountability structures that govern Ohio’s community schools, state oversight of sponsors, and operator transparency.”

Among non-dropout recovery center schools examined in northwest Ohio were Toledo’s Hope Learning Academy where 59 students were found in attendance compared to 63 reported enrollment.. At North Central Academy in Seneca County, 96 students were in attendance compared to the reported 99.

The average attendance rate among the 30 non-dropout center schools was 86.3 percent, lower than the average of 90.8 percent among 10 traditional urban schools that were selected by Mr. Yost to create a benchmark against which to compare.

Three northwest Ohio schools were among the 10 traditional schools:

— Waite High School in Toledo: 720 in attendance compared to 860 reported to state.

— Noble elementary (grades 4-5) in Seneca County: 380 in attendance compared to 414 reported.

— Woodland Elementary School in Wood County: 582 attending, almost exactly was what reported to the state..

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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