The Ohio Department of Education has turned down the Cleveland Transformation Alliance’s strong recommendation that a statewide charter school sponsor–Cincinnati’s St. Aloysius Orphanage—no longer be permitted to open new charter schools in Cleveland.
In 2012, when the Ohio legislature approved what was called the Cleveland Transformation Plan to overhaul Cleveland’s public schools, Mayor Frank Jackson, who controls the school district under state law, wanted to have a locally-appointed civic and education group—the Transformation Alliance—approve or turn down charter schools. The idea was that, under the guidance of the Transformation Alliance, public and charter schools would work in partnership. But the state didn’t really give the Transformation Alliance any power; it was established only as an advisory committee.
The Plain Dealer‘s Patrick O’Donnell explains the state’s recent action: “Jackson won limited power from Gov. John Kasich and the legislature in 2012 to let his school quality panel, the Transformation Alliance, recommend to the state who can create and oversee new charter schools in the city. That hard fought power was much less than what Jackson had initially sought—an ability for city leaders to approve or deny each new school directly. But when the panel tried to use that already-reduced power this year for the first time—asking the state to block controversial charter sponsor St. Aloysius Orphanage from starting new schools here—the Ohio Department of Education did not agree.”
Here is some background about Ohio—a national exemplar of poor oversight of its charter school sector—where charter schools can be authorized by nonprofit agencies, even agencies with no experience in education. Agencies frequently sponsor schools in far away cities, as there is no requirement in state law that authorizing agencies be located near the institutions they supposedly oversee.
St. Aloysius Orphanage was founded in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1837. It has evolved from a 19th century orphanage into a 21st century mental health agency that also provides a local Cincinnati charter school for children needing special education services. St. Aloysius Orphanage has also become one of Ohio’s largest statewide charter school sponsoring agencies. It contracts with a for-profit firm, Charter School Specialists, to provide all the services required of charter school sponsors by the Ohio Department of Education. Under an agreement with the state, St. Aloysius Orphanage is paid 3 percent of the state’s reimbursement to all of the 42 charter schools it sponsors across the state, an amount it splits with its contractor Charter School Specialists.
In an August 2017 letter sent to State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria, Transformation Alliance Executive Director Piet Van Lier described the serious problems uncovered when members of an Alliance task force spoke with representatives of St. Aloysius Orphanage: “Gaps in the type and quality of oversight are apparent. St. Aloysius staff represented on the interview team were unable to adequately answer questions about specific school improvement efforts. It was also not clear that St. Aloysius’s board had any member with an education background… The task force also expressed some concern that Charter School Specialists, which delivers all sponsorship services for St. Aloysius, also provides school treasurers and other services for sponsored schools for a separate fee. It is not clear how arms-length assurances are maintained.”
And the particular new charter school being opened by St. Aloysius in Cleveland this fall is part of a Florida-Ohio chain of charter schools—Cambridge-Newpoint—that is currently under indictment in Florida for fraud and racketeering charges.
Claiming that the Transformation Alliance missed a deadline in submitting its complaint, State Superintendent DeMaria has denied the Transformation Alliance’s recommendation to reject the school and deny St. Aloysius Orphanage the right to open additional schools in Cleveland.
O’Donnell summarizes the response of members of the Transformation Alliance to the state’s recent denial of its recommendation: “Members of the Alliance—Cleveland school district, union, charter school, higher education, business and philanthropic leaders—believe that the Cincinnati orphanage, which now oversees 12 charter schools in Cleveland, creates mediocre or poor schools across the state, just to offer school choices for the sake of choice, not quality. Alliance members also question whether the orphanage and the for-profit company that creates schools for it are mainly trying to make money.”