COLUMBUS — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich on Friday called for a constitutional amendment to give local school boards sole governing authority over charter schools.
The former congressman and Cleveland mayor also would support a law prohibiting campaign contributions and other payments to local school board members, state lawmakers, or employees of the Ohio Department of Education.
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“In my experience, there is a level of corruption here that is very serious, that undermines public education and undermines public confidence in the legislative process,” Mr. Kucinich said. “I think this is much bigger than Coingate and the Crofters scandal, because of the pure amount of money that’s at stake here, close to $1 billion a year.”
Charter schools are public schools that are freed from some of the regulation of traditional public schools, with the idea that such freedom could foster innovation and student success. But many such schools have not performed as well as traditional public schools.
Reforms have been proposed by several of the Democrats seeking to replace Republican Gov. John Kasich. State Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D., Boardman) has introduced bills on the subject that have seen little action in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
The spotlight on charters increased as the state cracked down on the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, Ohio’s largest online school. ECOT closed two weeks ago in the middle of the school year, sending an estimated 12,000 students scrambling to find slots with other schools.
Mr. Kucinich said billions in state aid that used to go to traditional public schools has been diverted to charter schools that are not answerable to the local district. That includes $71 million this year that would have gone to Toledo Public Schools, he said.
“I’m not saying shut them down,” he said. “I’m saying local control. Give people a voice. ... This then becomes a public discussion instead of a situation where acts of the legislature are rigging a system in favor of for-profit management companies whose principals then turn around and give money to legislators and other state officials ... to continue the process.”
The language for a proposed ballot issue is still being drafted, but he said he envisions a process in which existing charter schools would have to be reauthorized by local districts and voters. If they say no, the schools would be dissolved.
“He would save himself a lot of trouble if he just eliminated charter schools,” said Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The institute is a charter school advocate and sponsors 13 in the state.
“Most school districts, with a couple of exceptions, would not authorize charter schools,” he said. “These are a different option for students and families in the community when they’re not pleased with their school districts.
“At the end of the day, this is dressed up to look like good governance, but doing away with charter schools that tens of thousands of families have decided were their best choice is a big disservice,” Mr. Aldis said.
Mr. Kucinich’s running mate, Akron City Councilman Tara Samples, once worked as a paralegal and board liaison for Akron-based White Hat Management, one of the for-profit charter school management companies that his proposal is targeting.
Campaign spokesman Andy Juniewicz said Ms. Samples’ role as board liaison was to attend the meetings of the boards of the charter schools, take notes, and report back to White Hat. She did not have decision-making authority and was let go after about a year as part of a company downsizing.
He said she is in agreement with Mr. Kucinich’s proposals.
Among Mr. Kucinich’s other proposals are:
● A summit of players in the education community to brainstorm ideas on how to improve school performance.
● Clarification that assets acquired by a charter school are the property of the school district.
● Prohibition against a charter school purchasing services or goods from a company affiliated with a principal, officer, or director of the school.
● A return to a fully elected State Board of Education, a system in place prior to 1997. Currently, some members are appointed by the governor.
Others seeking the Democratic nomination are former Cincinnati state Rep. Connie Pillich, former state Supreme Court Justice William O’Neill, and former federal consumer watchdog Richard Cordray.
Attorney General Mike DeWine and Mary Taylor are seeking the Republican nomination.
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