Despite court ruling, not enough transparency in charter school spending

White Hat's David Brennan
White Hat’s David Brennan

The Ohio Supreme Court announced last week that it would let stand two lower court rulings that said Charter Schools run by White Hat Management have a right to know how White Hat is spending the money the public sends to them.

Charter Schools have sponsors that oversee their operations, as well as boards that are appointed but function similarly to other school boards. Many times, these sponsors and boards contract with for-profit firms to run the school, giving them as much as 97% of the taxpayer money they receive from the state. The state takes the money it was going to send to local school districts and gives it instead to the Charter School, which it turn gives it over to the for profit operator, like White Hat, which is run by political powerhouse David Brennan.

The problem, as we’ve reported at IO before, is that the amount taken from the district and given to the Charter School is almost always more than the district would have gotten for that student, and in nearly every instance, the money goes to a Charter School that performs worse than the district that is losing the student and money.

This decision to let the lower court rulings stand is a victory for transparency in Ohio Charter School law, yet not completely.

That is because the public still cannot directly access the information from the operator. It has to wait for the sponsor or board to request it first. One of the major problems with Charter School law in Ohio is the power for profit operators like White Hat have traditionally wielded over their overseers. Uncooperative board members were shown the door while cooperative board members were seen as those who didn’t ask questions.

Now the issue becomes will Charter School sponsors and board members actually demand this information beyond the 10 schools involved in the White Hat suit? Because the Ohio Department of Education and taxpayers still cannot directly find out how these companies are spending hundreds of millions of our tax dollars.

The other issue is with Mr. Brennan’s cozy relationship with the legislature, will he be able to “fix” the law again so he can keep his books closed? Given his huge campaign contributions and history of doing just that, Ohio’s taxpayers should take note of their legislators’ next move. We at IO would like to see the legislature take the next logical step and affirmatively state that any member of the public can get an accounting directly from White Hat of how that firm (and any other operator) has spent the nearly $1 billion it has received in public funds since the mid-1990s.

Until now, Brennan has been able to shield that information from everyone. Now that he has to give it to someone, the Ohio General Assembly should ensure that he can’t shield that information from anyone.