- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown on Monday asked federal regulators to examine how Ohio charter schools that received money through a grant program stack up against their counterparts in other states before giving the state any more money.

In a letter to Education Secretary John King, the Democrat said he remains concerned Ohio charter schools lack adequate oversight.

“Ohio’s current lack of oversight wastes taxpayer’s money and undermines the ostensible goal of charters: providing more high-quality education opportunities for children,” Brown wrote. “There exists a pattern of waste, fraud and abuse that is far too common and requires extra scrutiny.”

His request follows the release of a report by the Charter School Accountability Project, partially supported by teachers’ unions, that showed Ohio has received more from the 20-year-old grant program than other big states, such as Florida and California. It also showed that more than a third of the schools that got the money have closed or never opened.

Brown asked the U.S. Department of Education to follow up by reviewing whether Ohio’s past grant recipients are failing or closing at higher rates than in other states and how their academic performance compares.

Federal regulators postponed disbursement last year of a $71 million grant to Ohio amid concerns over the state Education Department’s alleged rigging of charter school evaluations and the completeness of Ohio’s grant application.

Brown said once the state meets all the requirements of the grant and the money is disbursed, a monitor should be appointed to review every payment “to ensure that all funds are being spent for their intended purpose.”

Meanwhile, a state law passed amid intensified scrutiny of Ohio’s charter school sector is putting pressure on poor-performing schools.

According to The Plain Dealer of Cleveland, the Ohio Department of Education said 11 charter schools this year lost their sponsors’ support, meaning they’re in danger of closing if they can’t find a new backer by the June 30 deadline.

The schools are in a dire position in the wake of the new law, which blocks schools dropped by a sponsor due to poor performance from signing on with another. This also is the first year the state can reject applications from schools with bad academic records.

Ohio’s House Bill 2 charter reform law was specifically designed to combat the practice of “sponsor hopping” - when schools jump from overseer to overseer as soon as one begins to hold them to certain standards.

“It’s working as we intended for it to,” said Republican state Sen. Peggy Lehner, the bill’s co-sponsor.

In addition to the 11 schools that have closed because of lost sponsor support, eight others have shuttered voluntarily. It’s unclear if any of those schools were in danger of losing their backers and closed preemptively.

The total number of charter schools that have shut down this year so far is less than the 30 that closed in 2015 and 27 in 2014.

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