Dispatch: Pepper calls for charter school accountability

By Alan JohnsonThe Columbus Dispatch  •  Wednesday September 10, 2014 1:54 AM

Troubled charter schools are “reaching a crisis level” in Ohio and must be made accountable for putting students and taxpayers in peril, David Pepper, Democratic candidate for attorney general, said yesterday.

“We need to take a timeout,” Pepper told a retired-teachers council at the Ohio Education Association, 225 E. Broad St. “There’s millions of dollars missing” from failed and failing charter schools. “If this was a company doing trash pickup, it would be a big scandal.”

As part of his “Protecting Ohio’s Children” plan, Pepper said, if elected on Nov. 4, he will get tough on charter schools — something he says Attorney General Mike DeWine has not done.

DeWine’s office dropped out of an Ohio Supreme Court case that pitted charter-school operators against for-profit White Hat Management over who gets to keep computers, textbooks and equipment purchased with taxpayer dollars. White Hat owner David Brennan is a major campaign contributor to DeWine and the Republican Party — a reason DeWine didn’t pursue the case, Pepper claimed.

“When it hit the Ohio Supreme Court, the attorney general abandoned the case and the schoolchildren of Ohio,” Pepper said.

But DeWine’s office staff previously said the decision not to continue the White Hat case was made because the judge had dropped the Ohio Department of Education, whom the attorney general represents, as a party. It was decided that a friend of the court filing would be inappropriate, they said.

A Dispatch analysis this year found that 29 percent of Ohio’s charter schools have closed, dating to 1997 when they became legal. About 400 charters are operating, but 134 have closed.

Some shut down because of money problems, others because students weren’t getting healthy lunches or buildings were unsanitary. In one case, students were reportedly allowed to engage in sexual activity in a Dayton charter school.

Pepper also said he will work to rectify Ohio’s school-funding system, ruled unconstitutional in 1997 by the Ohio Supreme Court and never fixed to be “thorough and efficient.”

The system is going in the wrong direction, Pepper said, by increasingly relying on local revenue and less on the state, the exact opposite of the direction dictated by the court 17 years ago.

Christine McVicar, a retired schoolteacher from the Marietta area, said her son, now 28, was in elementary school when the DeRolph school-funding decision was issued. While he made it to college, “it was not a level playing field for him” because of school-funding inequities, she said.

“We are wasting the talent of so many students that could be adding to the state of Ohio,” McVicar said.

DeWine campaign spokesman Ryan Stubenrauch slammed Pepper for overreaching.

“If he’s elected the lawyer of the state, he’s going to do the job of the legislature, the governor and the attorney general all at the same time.

“No one is saying school funding is perfect right now,” Stubenrauch said. “But it’s inappropriate and unethical for the attorney general to be standing on the street corner yelling, ‘ My client is breaking the law.’  ”

Link: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2014/09/09/Pepper_on_charter_schools.html