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Opinion: Unscrupulous Charters Continue to Rob Children of Columbus City Schools

Chris Sunami Chris Sunami Opinion: Unscrupulous Charters Continue to Rob Children of Columbus City Schools
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In 2002, I spearheaded a group that applied to open a charter school under the then new Ohio charter school legislation. Our application was denied. That same year, more than ten schools were approved for the same, for-profit company, White Hat Management. The owner was a major Republican donor, David Brennen, and his company has now made over $1 billion from Ohio schools. Two years ago, he was singled out for censure by the State Supreme Court for his efforts to take personal ownership out of assets paid for by taxpayers, in effect stealing from the very same schools he made millions from “managing.”

Today, Columbus City Schools is being denied $55 million dollars in taxpayer money owed to it by the state. This money has been collected from taxpayers on the premise it is going to ensure a free public education for all students. Yet at the same time, a banner headline news story is that ECOT, a vast, online charter school, has been overpaid by $60 million because of fraudulent and untrue reporting of attendance. The school has responded that they are required only to provide education, not ensure that students actually take advantage of it.

Again, the owner of this for-profit school, William Lager, is a major Republican donor, including to Dave Yost, the state auditor charged with investigation of the matter. This is like a criminal openly making payments to the detective on the case. The singular and notable ineffectiveness of Yost’s attempts to shut ECOT down are perhaps not unrelated.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots between $60 million being given wrongly to ECOT and $55 million being taken away from the children of Columbus City. As a Columbus City graduate, as the parent of two young children in a wonderful Columbus City school, and as a taxpayer, I take exception to being personally robbed to pad the pockets of these unscrupulous businessmen and the politicians they seem to have bought and paid for.

There are many good and positive charter schools out there, but unless they too speak out, they risk being all tarred with the same brush. This is exactly the situation we were warned against by public school advocates when the charter legislation was first passed, that young students, including some of the most disadvantaged in the state, would have their resources diverted to make the wealthy even wealthier.

This is quite literally the worst-case scenario.

As the Bible says, those that those who have will be given more, and for those who have not, even what they have shall be taken away. It also says that any tree that does not bear good fruit should be chopped down and burned. It’s time to close down these fraudulent schools, and wrest back their overpayments. And if that means getting their crony politicians thrown out of office, then that needs to happen as well.

— Christopher Sunami
Columbus Alternative High School, class of 1993

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