Here’s what happened in Ohio’s mid-biennium budget review bill, signed into law on Monday by Governor John Kasich. The governor and the legislature rewarded David Brennan, who runs the White Hat Life Skills Academy “dropout recovery” schools. According to Brent Larkin in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, David Brennan “has poured more than $4 million into the coffers of Republican candidates in Ohio during the past decade.”
Recently this blog covered the scandal of Ohio’s so-called “dropout-recovery” charter schools, a scandal that has been exposed by Doug Livingston of the Akron Beacon Journal. These schools offer students who have dropped out or are in danger of dropping out the opportunity to sit in a cubicle with a computer for four hours each day to recover enough credits to graduate from high school. The state pays the dropout-recovery schools for all the students who are supposedly enrolled, but the dropout rate at these schools is higher than at any other secondary schools in the state, and the state keeps on paying for several weeks after the students stop attending. Livingston has demonstrated that these schools are, in fact, driving up Ohio’s high school dropout rate.
Livingston writes, “Absenteeism tops the reasons why students drop out; charter schools continue to collect tax dollars for more than a month while they are gone.” “Administrators call it churning’ or ‘school hopping’—when student drop out, disappear for months and then return.” “The state requires that students who are absent or truant for more than 23 days be taken off school rolls, but during that 23 days, the state reimburses the school. Livingston explains: “There were more than 11,000 removals for truancy last year, meaning taxpayers paid for perhaps 253,000 days of no student instruction, or the equivalent of 1,400 empty desks for an entire school year.”
So, what happened in the new mid-biennium budget review bill signed by the governor this week? The state, according to the Plain Dealer‘s Larkin, has already been wasting money paying for students up to age 22 to attend “dropout recovery” charters that themselves account for 66 percent of Ohio’s high school dropouts. The new bill allows such students to continue at White Hat Life Skills Academies and the state’s other designated “dropout recovery schools,” at state expense, until they are nearly 30 years old. While this may sound like a good way to give young adults a second chance, it is far from the ideal plan. Governor Kasich himself had already proposed a better state program that would, at state expense, enable community colleges and career-technical schools more suited for adults to begin serving Ohio’s adult high school dropouts who have already earned at least ten credits toward high school graduation.
Here is how the Plain Dealer‘s Larkin describes the story of what happened as the legislation was crafted: “The House approved paying White Hat and other schools $5,000 per student to attend schools that have ‘already failed’ those students. Recognizing this as a total scam, the Ohio Senate removed that language from the bill. Unfortunately, when legislators met to reconcile the differences, the House version resurfaced.” On Monday, when Governor Kasich failed to use the line-item veto he is permitted in a budget bill, he preserved the House’s reward for David Brennan.
In a short editorial update, the Akron Beacon Journal comments: “The Republican majority in the House, led by Speaker William Batchelder, pushed for the provision, the item resurfacing in the conference committee. What explains its presence, if not the merits? The speaker invites the impression of his team doing the bidding of David Brennan, an influential donor to Republicans whose White Hat Management includes in its portfolio the operation of dropout recovery programs. So a set of charter schools with a lousy record of achievement now has an additional avenue to public money.”