Ohio’s charter-closure law, which became effective in 2008 and was revised in 2011, calls for automatic closure of schools rated in Academic Emergency for at least two of the three most recent school years.
Oversight of these criteria primarily falls on authorized sponsors, which are responsible for evaluating and reporting on the academic and financial performance of their sponsored schools, and on ODE.
While Ohio law sets up charter school boards as the entity to be held legally responsible for a school’s academic and financial performance, it does not do the same for management companies, many of them for-profit that are contracted by schools to manage their daily operations. These companies are often in charge of making major decisions for a school, including hiring and firing teachers, assessing academic performance, contracting with vendors, budgeting, developing curriculum, and providing basic classroom materials. Yet the closure law places no penalty on CMOs when their schools meet academic closure criteria. This omission creates a loophole for managers to keep “closed” schools open and continue to receive public funds for failing schools.
Policy Matters has documented that of the 20 charter schools ODE has required to close for academic reasons, seven have essentially remained intact, skirting the automatic closure law. In other cases CMO-operated schools facing automatic closure were replaced by nearly identical schools, managed by the same company with much of the same staff. An eighth school, Hope Academy Canton, was ordered closed by its sponsor a year before it would have been shut down by the state. In this case, our investigation showed that by closing early and opening a new school in the same location with much of the same staff, the schools’ for-profit operator, White Hat Management, bought five additional years of life – and revenue – for a low-performing school.
In more than half the cases we examined, the new schools’ academic performance remained the same as the old schools’; five of the eight “new” schools are still ranked in Academic Watch or Emergency, while their management companies and sponsors continue to take in millions of dollars in public funding. For-profit CMOs – the Leona Group, Mosaica Education, and White Hat Management – run six of the eight schools we investigated.
Some background on the national privatization scene (pdf):
Education management organizations, or EMOs, emerged in the early 1990s in the context of widespread interest in so-called market-based school reform proposals. Wall Street analysts coined the term EMO as an analogue to health maintenance organizations (HMOs). Proponents of EMOs claim that they bring a much needed dose of entrepreneurial spirit and a competitive ethos to public education. Opponents argue that outsourcing to EMOs results in already limited school resources being redirected for service fees, profits, or both while creating another layer of administration. Opponents also have expressed concerns about transparency and the implications of public bodies relinquishing control or ownership of schools.
Comparisons could be made to our shambling, patched-together, fragmented wreck of a “health care system” which we’re now desperately trying to “reform” and make universal, except it’s worse in education, because we never had a universal public health care system. We DO have a public education system. Health care is going so well we decided to apply our health care system “principles” to an existing universal public system? Why would we do that?
The number of states in which for-profit EMOs operated was 33 in 2010-2011. The for-profit education management industry expanded into Alaska and Hawaii this past year for the first time. In 2010-2011, 35% of all public charter schools in the U.S. were operated by private EMOs, and these schools accounted for almost 42% of all students enrolled in charter schools.
For-profits operating in 33 states under the guise of “school reform”. Wow. You won’t hear about that innovative and exciting development during School Choice Week. I would think privatization of public schools would be a fundamental policy choice, a decision we make, not something we just belatedly discover has happened while we were busy hating on teachers.
I would think privatization of our universal, public K-12 education system would be raised and debated every single time an unelected or elected school reformer like Michelle Rhee or Jeb Bush or Bill Gates or the Wal-Mart heirs (or Arne Duncan and Corey Booker) appear on television, yet we never talk about the for-profits or maybe more importantly, their lobbyists. God knows we discuss public school teacher salaries often enough, so it isn’t that we don’t “follow the money” in education. Where are the discussions on the CEO salaries of these for-profit outfits? How much money is flowing out of public education and into the pockets of shareholders under “school reform”? Why aren’t school reformers, all of them, forced to address this publicly? Did they not anticipate that deregulation and the introduction of for-profits would lead to capture of lawmakers by those same for-profits? Why not? What do they plan to do about it?