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Charter School Supporters Rally At Statehouse

The Ohio Department of Education is investigating  complaints of testing irregularities at two charter schools - the Horizon Science Academies in Cincinnati and Columbus. 

This scope is added to the ongoing scrutiny into the Horizon Science Academy in Dayton. The allegations motivated hundreds of charter school supporters to rally in Columbus. Ohio Public Radio's Andy Chow reports.

Parents and teachers told the Ohio State Board of Education that the recent string of accusations against the Horizon Science Academies is becoming a distraction to student education. 

Shahrazad (Share-Awe-Zahd) Ali—whose grandson is a freshman at the Horizon Science Academy in Cincinnati—went as far as saying that opponents of charter schools are conducting a “witch hunt.” 

Ali: “We are expected to make the same progress as an institution—of the regular public schools who’ve been around almost 400 years—charter schools have been around for 15 years. That’s an unfair advantage they have over us and they have that big powerful union that fights for them and puts out propaganda.” 

In July a group of teachers who used to work at the Horizon school in Dayton told the state school board they witnessed racism, sexism and questionable testing policies. They also said administrators did not take proper disciplinary measures after students were allegedly caught performing sexual acts. 

Casanova Green is an alumna and now a teacher at the Horizon Science Academy in Columbus. This is one of the schools now under a probe by the Ohio department of education due to a complaint of testing irregularities. 

Green says his school follows strict testing protocols. 

Green: “What we do in our building is teach. The goal of education is to build people who are capable and competent citizens of our society. And what I see on a daily basis is education. I cannot speak for our counterparts in Dayton and what they do. But for my building—we teach.” 

Brian Rothenberg with Progress Ohio—a coalition of liberal groups—recognizes the supporters’ praise of charter schools but says the state report cards tell a different story. 

Rothenberg: “Take it at face value what people say but at the same time the state just released a report card and every single school got ‘D’s’ or ‘F’s’ for graduation rates.” 

Rothenberg also takes issue with the idea that an investigation into these charter schools is somehow a distraction. 

Rothenberg: “I think that’s ridiculous. I mean the fact is all the noise is an investigation into the irregularities that have happened—allegations of cheating on tests allegations of student misconduct—allegations that students were treated wrong—I mean all these things are very serious charges.” 

Matt Dole is a spokesperson for the Blue Ribbon Friends group, a coalition of charter school supporters. He says the recent scrutiny is politically driven. 

Dole: “It’s important to keep in perspective that the board of education is a political body—it’s an election year and they’re feeling pressure to investigate these schools because Progress Ohio and the teachers unions feel like they can get a foot in the door against school choice by targeting this group of schools.” 

For years Democratic lawmakers have called on charter schools to face more accountability and transparency. Rothenberg says a big step towards fixing the controversy is for charters to be subjected to state audits. 

Dole argues that the current law gives charters more flexibility when needed. 

Dole: “When the charter school law passed in Ohio they were specifically given more leniency in a lot of areas than traditional public schools for exactly the reason that they need to be nimble and so I think if the Legislature wants to go back and look at it now that we’re a few years into it that’s the Legislature’s prerogative.” 

There are currently bills in the House and Senate that would require more transparency for charters. Those measures have not moved forward in committee. 

The Chicago-based company—Concept Schools—manages about 20 Horizon and Nobel Academies in Ohio. It’s currently under investigation by the FBI for possible improper use of funding. 

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