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Education Experts Call for New Charter School Reforms;
Warn the Ohio Virtual Academy Is 'ECOT-Lite'

Although the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow has closed, education experts said Ohio needs additional charter school reforms and expressed fears that the Maumee-based Ohio Virtual Academy now Ohio's largest online school - has many of the problems that plagued ECOT.

"For four years, the NCAA has refused to accept course work from the Ohio Virtual Academy and 23 other schools managed by K12 Inc.'' State Rep Teresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat, said at a forum today. ''Like ECOT, OVA has been accused of attendance padding, has a poor academic record and likes to donate to the Republican Governor's Association. Some people at the Statehouse call it 'ECOT-Lite.' "

One change she called for: A ban on for-profit charter school management companies such as K12 Inc.

Joining Fedor were Denis Smith, a former consultant to the Ohio Department of Education's charter school office; and Mark Hughes, Vice President of the Washington Local School Board.

Smith noted that Ohio's charter school experiment is now in its 20th year and has failed to deliver the innovation and academic improvements it promised.

"Instead of better results, we've seen the Walmartization of education,'' Smith explained. "There are national chains like K12 that are listed on the New York Stock Exchange coming in and snaring our tax dollars. The focus is on profits. We've lost the focus on the students.''

He endorsed Fedor's call for a ban on K12 and other for-profit charter school management companies. California recently passed a law banning them.

All three panelists criticized Ohio's system of paying for public schools both charters and traditional ones.

Washington Local is asking voters to approve a 4.9 mill tax levy, and Hughes said that steady reductions in state money caused the school board to ask local property owners to pay more. The district lost almost $77 million since 2014 because legislators have capped their amount of state money.

"School funding in Ohio is unfair and unconstitutional and really hurts districts like ours,'' Hughes said.  "It's gut-wrenching.''  The district has one high school with 2000 students for whom it receives zero state dollars, he said.

The website, KnowYourCharter.com shows OVA siphoned about $229,000 from the Washington Local Schools last year and ECOT siphoned away about $319,000.

Fedor has tangled with OVA in the past.

In 2015, a whistleblower sent documents to the House Education Committee's Republican chairman and to Fedor, the panel's top Democrat, that appeared to show OVA illegally received state money for more than 300 students who should have been withdrawn for truancy. They referred the allegations to authorities and to Auditor David Yost who at the time declined to say if he was investigating.

A charter school front group, the Ohio eSchool Friends and Families Coalition, issued a news release that announced the hiring of "former Prosecutor and Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Greg Peterson to investigate how State Representative Teresa Fedor came into possession of potentially stolen documents, made false claims against the Ohio Virtual Academy and to hold her to account for her actions.'' It made no mention of the Committee's Republican chairman.

Peterson's hiring was announced after an investigation by the school's sponsor found just 12 students who should have been withdrawn for truancy not more than 300.  The sponsor has an inherent conflict of interest because it has a financial stake in the school.

A recent audit by the Ohio Department of Education calls into question the sponsor's findings. It ordered OVA to repay $1.6 million an amount that covers more than 200 students for the state fiscal year ending June 30, 2017.

News of the repayment order prompted charter school researcher Sandy Theis to telephone Peterson the "former prosecutor'' who was enlisted to investigate   Fedor.  She wanted to know why his hiring was trumpeted with great fanfare - but his findings were never made public. She learned there were no findings and no real investigation.

Peterson said he remembered very little about his investigation, but said, "My recollection is they originally approached me and I don't believe I did anything on that.''

The forum took place at the Heatherdowns Branch Library and was co-sponsored by ProgressOhio, Northwest Ohio Friends of Public Education and the Northwest Ohio Indivisible Coalition.



Copyright 2018 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 10/11/18 09:02:53 -0400.

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