Ohio’s highest ranking Democrats on House and Senate education committees have joined most major newspapers and elected state school board members in asking for public records connected to a charter school data-rigging scandal.
The Beacon Journal reported Sunday that major newspapers in Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton have been waiting more than a month for emails or letters that David Hansen may have sent to other Ohio Department of Education officials or charter school operators and sponsors.
Hansen, who is married to Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign manager, resigned as the state’s CEO of school choice after admitting that he had intentionally ignored low test scores at online and dropout recovery charter schools, some run by major Republican campaign donors.
This week, Sen. Tom Sawyer, D-Akron, and Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, echoed the majority of state school board members who have called for an independent investigation of the Ohio Department of Education’s actions and close ties to the charter school industry.
Hansen has advocated for and governed charter schools, and State Superintendent Richard Ross, who previously advised Kasich on education matters, led Reynoldsburg City Schools when it sponsored one of the state’s first online charter schools.
The public records sought by media and state officials could determine if Hansen acted alone in making sponsors — the mostly private groups that oversee charter schools — look like they were doing an “exemplary” job.
Thomas Gunlock, a Kasich-appointee, president of the state school board and former member of a charter school board, said legal staff has been advised to take their time in combing through the emails to ensure nothing is missed. That response doesn’t satisfy Sawyer or Fedor.
Fedor already has called for Ross to resign.
“It is frankly outrageous that the Department of Education is stonewalling media and legislators in their refusal to produce these records,” Sawyer said in a statement Wednesday.
“Superintendent Ross was quick to say that David Hansen acted alone in omitting data from failing online schools,” he continued. “If that were true, why is it taking so long for the department to verify Ross’ claim? Shouldn’t they jump at the chance to do so? The public deserves to know the full story.”
Ohio Department of Education spokeswoman Kim Norris could not say how many people across Ohio have asked for the records. Only the education department’s legal staff would know that, and “they are busy reviewing documents,” she said in an email.
Fedor is calling for the state to reopen an investigation overseen by Hansen. The probe cleared Ohio’s second largest online charter school of any wrongdoing after a whistle blower told state lawmakers that administrators at Ohio Virtual Academy had inflated attendance, which drives state funding.
“It is obvious that we hit a nerve and potentially upset OHVA’s gravy train when we took allegations of attendance fraud seriously and forwarded them to the proper authorities,” Fedor said in a statement released Thursday. “It later became apparent that the man in charge of reviewing these complaints for the state was tainted and in-bed with the industry during the time of the supposed review. That is why we deserve a clean and independent investigation into these allegations, one that will finally provide real answers for parents, taxpayers and students.”
Ohio Virtual Academy and the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, whose academic results Hansen ignored when grading their sponsors, have the two lowest student growth scores in the state. The owners of ECOT have donated millions to Republican candidates.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @DougLivingstonABJ.