- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 16, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Recent charter school developments have put additional pressure on Ohio lawmakers trying to tighten regulation of the schools via pending legislation.

Last month, Ohio’s charter schools director was ousted after he acknowledged manipulating poor-performing schools’ evaluations, an admission that drew the attention of state authorities.

On Tuesday, some state school board members sought unsuccessfully for an independent investigation of the state’s charter schools oversight office because of the manipulation and other charter school scandals.

Board member A.J. Wagner, a former judge, said backers of the nonpartisan probe have watched as a string of unsettling revelations at Ohio’s charter schools have been turned back over to the schools’ sponsors to be reviewed as Ohio law directs.

Board member Pat Bruns said she perceives the state Department of Education as hard on traditional public schools while giving charter schools a pass.

“Somehow, charter schools don’t have any oversight and they’re stated that they are innovative and we need to expand these kinds of opportunities,” Bruns said, adding she’s not seeing the evidence for that approach.

Also Tuesday, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith Lanzinger said lawmakers need to decide whether tougher regulations are needed for community schools, as charter schools are referred to in Ohio.

“The legislature has enacted statutes that take a laissez-faire attitude toward operators of community schools,” said the Republican Lanzinger, in a nudge to lawmakers.

Lanzinger’s statement came in a ruling over a contract dispute that favored Akron-based White Hat Management, which has earned millions in taxpayer dollars managing Ohio charter schools. Although one portion of the ruling backed White Hat, another suggested the company’s treatment of taxpayer dollars as private money could be challenged.

A bipartisan bill cracking down on the publicly funded, privately operated schools is pending in the Republican-controlled Legislature. House and Senate leaders and Gov. John Kasich have all said strengthening the charter school law is a priority this year.

The bill would crack down on low-performing Ohio charter schools and impose a host of new accountability standards on sponsors.

Events of the past month simply bolster what were already strong statements by legislative leaders that change was needed, said Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which supports charter schools.

“Some of these things that have occurred just sharpen the public’s focus on the need to make sure that we really do have a good charter school regulatory infrastructure in place,” Aldis said Wednesday.

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