State Rep. David Leland (D-Columbus) today introduced legislation to improve charter school transparency and accountability by permitting the state auditor to track all taxpayer money received by the private, for-profit schools. The proposed legislation follows a state ruling against ECOT, Ohio’s largest, failing online charter school, for misappropriating at least $60 million in taxpayer funds by falsely inflating student attendance.
“Ohio taxpayers deserve a full and complete accounting for every one of their hard-earned dollars invested in education, whether the money is directed to public school districts or charter schools,” said Leland. “Charter schools and their management companies shouldn’t be able to hide their spending of public funds behind closed doors. This bill will close a loophole in state law and help ensure charter schools in Ohio operate in a transparent, accountable manner.”
Leland’s legislation clarifies that money charter schools receive from the Ohio Department of Education are public funds, and remain public even in cases where charter schools use the taxpayer dollars to pay management companies to oversee daily operations. The state funds charter schools receive would be subject to the same requirements related to permissible expenditures and auditing by the state auditor as state funds allocated to public school districts.
“Given the fact that Ohio is in the middle of an almost one-billion-dollar budget shortfall, it is now more important than ever to make sure taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted or misused,” Leland added.
In a 2015 Ohio Supreme Court decision, several justices criticized the current legal framework that allows charter management companies to use taxpayer money without any transparency or accountability requirements.