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· August 4, 2011

Sunshine is the best policy, court rules charters must share spending records

Although charter school operator and GOP donor David Brennan has long maintained that he does not have to show how his charter schools spend the millions they receive in taxpayer money each year, a Franklin County judge disagreed and ordered Brennan to open his books. The ruling is a remarkable victory for open and accountable government and for parents who have been struggling to learn why schools run by White Hat Management have consistently had abysmal academic records. Sharing the parents’ frustration are people who serve on White Hat governing boards. Board members at 10 dissident White Hat schools sued White Hat Management last year, saying the for-profit management company has unconstitutional control over the governing boards and insisting that White Hat must show how it spends federal and state money. White Hat gets 96% of all state funds provided to the complaining charter schools but has long maintained that how it spends the public’s money is not the public’s business. A Franklin County judge disagreed: Ohio law “clearly and unambiguously requires operators of community schools to provide their governing authorities with a detailed accounting of how public funds were spent,’’ according to a Wednesday ruling by Franklin County Common Pleas Judge John Bender. As the lawsuit continued, state budget writers attempted to make it even easier for Brennan to continue running poorly performing schools and harder for taxpayers to find out how he spends public money A  budget analysis by Innovation Ohio noted that it allows “millionaire, ‘for profit’ charter school operators (and major Republican campaign donors) like David Brennan to open new charters without independent sponsors. Oversight will now supposedly come from the State Department of Education, which lacks the resources to do it effectively.’’ The budget analysis followed a separate Innovation Ohio expose on E-Schools run by Brennan and charter school operator William Lager. The report “Funding Failure, Coddling Contributors,” found that E-Schools – a subset of charters – cost more per-pupil than traditional public schools, perform poorly and lack appropriate oversight. It also found that Brennan and Lager alone have given Ohio Republicans more than $4 million in campaign contributions from 2001-2010.

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