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NBC4 Investigates: Taxpayers Left Holding Bill For Charter Schools

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Charter schools in Ohio are closing at record rates, and taxpayers are being left holding the bill. Charter schools in Ohio are closing at record rates, and taxpayers are being left holding the bill.
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Charter schools in Ohio are closing at record rates, and taxpayers are being left holding the bill.

Many are calling the situation a crisis for Ohio's charter schools.

Millions of taxpayer dollars are pumped in to prop up private charter schools, but when the schools fail, there's very little money left to collect.

Beverly Brown chose Pschtecin High School in northeast Columbus for her 15-year-old daughter, but the school was abruptly closed on Dec. 6.

"Nothing was told to us about possibly shutting down," Brown said.

 In a letter from the Ohio Department of Education obtained by NBC4, Pschtecin had, among other things, failed to properly educate students or satisfy its financial obligations.

"It turned out to be financial reasons," said Mike Collins, of the Ohio Board of Education.

In 2013, 17 charter schools in Columbus closed, joining 150 other charter schools around Ohio. It's a failure rate of 29 percent.

"$1.4 billion has been spent since 2005 through school year 2012-2013 on charter schools that have never gotten any higher grade than an F or a D," Collins said.

Collins, along with Stephen Dyer of the progressive public policy think tank, Innovation Ohio, said Ohio public schools have paid too high a price to support charter schools.

"We were told at the beginning, 'We can do it cheaper and better.' And they are doing it at twice the cost and it's worse," said Dyer.

Charter schools are funded by the state on the backs of school districts and taxpayers.

"They know tax dollars are going to it. They don't realize it's coming out of the public school district, and they don't realize the oversight is entirely different," Dyer said. "There is much more money going to the charter school kids that every kid in the state on average loses 6.5 percent of their state revenue."

The bill doesn't stop there.

"When there is financial mismanagement, charter schools can be closed. The question is, where do these dollars go? Have any been retrieved?" Collins said.

The Ohio attorney general is the state's most important, but last resort in trying to collect from the charter schools that are forced to close when the state auditor rules the money needs to be returned to taxpayers.

NBC4's Duane Pohlman: "Has the office been successful in doing that?"

Dan Tierney, spokesman for Attorney General Mike DeWine: "The charter school book of business is a very difficult book of business to collect on."

Figures obtained by NBC4 show just how difficult.

Since 2011, when DeWine moved into office, his staff has been charged with the task of collecting $30 million from failed charter schools. It has collected a little more than $422,000.

Nearly $30.5 million in tax money is still uncollected.

Pohlman: "So in the end, you're trying to get a collection that is virtually uncollectable?"

Tierney: "That's correct."

According to Tierney, the problem is a slow process involving local prosecutors and the auditor that chews up too much time, leaving little left when the AG's office finally gets the call to collect.

"So a charter school closes, it could be a year or several years before an audit is issued, saying that the money was not spent or they can show it was not spent properly, and then it's another four months on top of that before we get it," Tierney said.

Charter School Facts

According to the Ohio Department of Education:

  • there are approximately 400 charter schools in the state
  • nearly 20 closed in 2013
  • 12 closed in 2012
  • 12 closed in 2011
  • 23 closed in 2010
  • 14 closed in 2009
According to Stephen Dyer, of Innovation Ohio:

  • Charter schools are exempt from approximately 270 provisions of the Ohio Revised Code 
  • $888 million will be spent on charter schools in 2014
  • Every student in the public school loses 6.5 percent of their state revenue to money going to charter schools
  • The state spends about 7200 dollars a pupil in charter schools
  • Once you remove charter schools and vouchers, the state spends about 3500 dollars per pupil in public schools
  •  Students in Columbus Schools lose almost 25 percent of their state revenue to charter school students
  •  The average student in a charter schools loses a full marking period in math and about a third of a marking period in reading compared with their public school
  •  According to a recent Stanford Study (2013). Since 2009 Ohio is 1 of 4 states whose charter schools have actually lowered its performance.
According to Mike Collins, of the Ohio Board of Education

  • In 1998, $10 million was spent on the initial experiment of charter schools  
  • Only about 10 percent of charter schools can be identified as successful
  • $1.4 billion has been spent since 2005 through school year 2012-2013 on charter schools that have never gotten any higher grade than an F or a D
According to Collins, from data between attorney general's office, state auditor and Ohio Department of Education:

  • $187 million has been spent on closed charter schools that has not been retrieved

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