When Governor John Kasich rolled out his “Jobs Budget” (HB 153), no one was surprised that this champion of all things “free market” called for the acceleration of the privatization of public education in Ohio via the repeal of the 2005 moratorium that prohibited the opening of new on-line schools in the state.
But — surprise, surprise — the Republican dominated Assembly rejected Kasich’s proposal and voted to keep the moratorium in place. Wow, at first glance, it looked like the legislature was responding to the dismal academic failure of Ohio’s current e-schools, and, amazingly, that Republican Assembly members, tempering their free market mania, were acting to protect the public interest.
Not so — says Innovation Ohio. This think tank has published a report “OHIO’S E-SCHOOLS: FUNDING FAILURE; CODDLING CONTRIBUTORS,” that says the Assembly’s refusal to allow the opening of new e-schools, in fact, was a pay back to e-school owners from Republicans demonstrating their gratitude to their big political donors. E-schools are hugely profitable and, naturally, e-school owners don’t want additional competition, so they pressed their Republican “friends” to keep the moratorium in place. From the report:
“Innovation Ohio has found that between 2001 and 2010, Ohio Republicans, who now control both the Governor’s office and the Ohio General Assembly, received nearly $4 million in campaign contributions from just two men – David Brennan and William Lager.
David Brennan, who operates more charter schools in Ohio than anyone else, has single- handedly donated nearly $3 million to state candidates and Republican Party accounts. Brennan operates the Alternative Education Academy E-School (OHDELA), as well as several brick-and-mortar charter schools. Though OHDELA graduates just 35.9 percent of its students, Brennan receives $11.7 million a year in state money to operate it.
Incredibly, Mr. Brennan—who currently rakes in roughly $100 million per year from the state, and has banked over $500 million in state money since 2000—has never once testified before any education committee of the Ohio General Assembly.
For his part, Mr. Lager, who operates ECOT, has made nearly $1 million in political contributions since 2001. ECOT receives $64 million per year in state money – yet graduates just 35 percent of its students, and has a performance index rating worse than all but 14 of Ohio’s 613 districts. …
(By keeping the moratorium in place that stops the formation of new Ohio e-schools,) far better for these Republican benefactors to maintain their gravy train, especially since the adoption of standards is nowhere in sight. Coupled with the repeal of E-school reporting and minimum spending on student requirements, Brennan and Lager now can enjoy the best of both worlds—no pesky competition to eat into their market share, no standards for the schools they already operate, and no risk of state- imposed fines to cut into their profits.”
The New York Times last December reported, “Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools,” that one Ohio School, Ohio Virtual Academy, receiving more than $60 million a year from the state, is managed by a national company called “K-12.” Astoundingly, the CEO of K-12, Ronald J. Packard, receives an annual salary of $5 million.
The NYT reports: “In an interview at K12’s headquarters in Herndon, Va., Mr. Packard said, ‘We’re here to help children, and that is our overriding purpose and we want to do it as well and efficiently as possible.’ ” I had to laugh when I read Mr. Packard’s “It’s all about the children” defense. I guess it’s nice to have your good deeds rewarded with a $5 million paycheck each year, as well.
Innovation Ohio doesn’t report the salaries of Lager or Brennan, but, I’m sure they are huge. Do the math:
E-schools receive $6,320 tax money per pupil — subtracted from funds that otherwise would go to local public schools — and the reported average student: teacher ratio for Ohio e-schools is 37:1. (I suspect it is much higher.) The average salary for teachers in Ohio e-schools is $36,000 and with retirement and health benefits the average total compensation per teacher would be much less than $50,000.
The largest Ohio e-school is ECOT with 9257 students. On the expense side, if the 37:1 ratio is accurate, ECOT has 250 teachers with total compensation each year of $12,500,000, round to $13 million. Add computer equipment, software, on-line expenses, etc cost, I’m guessing, on average, $1500 per student each year for $14 million Add a generous amount for administrative and office costs, for another $5 million. And the TOTAL is $13 + 14 + 5 = $32 million
On the revenue side, @6320 per student, there is an income of $58 million, and, so, there seems to be an excess of $58 – $32 = $26 million.
If I’m off in my expense side by $10 million, there is still plenty of excess money to pass around. One big e-school expense I’ve not noted is advertising — e-schools spend a lot of public tax money soliciting new students. And, of course, donations from e-school owners given to politicians is also an indirect expense. Here is how the gravy train chugs along, ever faster:
- Money extracted from taxpayers
- is cleansed by “private enterprise”
- then placed to politicians’ hands
- so politicians can enact policies
- to empower “private enterprise” to extract more taxpayer money so
- even more money is placed in politicians hands so
- “private enterprise” can extract even more money ….
From 2001-2010, David Brennan alone made political contributions totaling $2,933,046 to political party accounts and candidates for statewide and legislative offices, with only token amounts going to Democrats. William Lager donated $943,452 during that same time frame –again mostly to Republican candidates and causes. What is especially noteworthy is the size of their recent largesse, especially since it is Republicans who are now seeking to remove all caps, restrictions and accountability from E-schools and charter schools more broadly.
As the 2010 elections approached, Mr. Brennan stepped up his contributions to statewide Republican candidates, giving generously to the campaigns of Gov. John Kasich ($22,781); Secretary of State Jon Husted ($22,745); Treasurer Josh Mandel ($22,692); Auditor David Yost ($11,000); Attorney General Mike DeWine ($11,000) and Speaker of the House William Batchelder ($22,000). xxi Their Democratic opponents received nothing from Mr. Brennan.
Mr. Brennan also contributed heavily to various Republican Party organizations and committees during 2009-10. In 2009, he gave a total of $169,075 to 5 different GOP political funds, and in 2010, $106,000 more to 3 Republican funds and committees. He also contributed an additional $24,850 to Republicans in 2009-10 through “Go-Go PAC”, a political action committee that he himself controls. xxii Go-Go PAC’s contributions to Democrats during this period totaled $9,420, with the bulk of that ($8,395) going to incumbent Gov. Ted Strickland.
All told, David Brennan lavished over $412,000 on Republican candidates and committees during 2009 and 2010 alone, while contributing a token $9,420 to Democrats in this period.
Although not as generous as Mr. Brennan, William Lager also targeted Republican candidates in 2009-10, giving Batchelder $21,000; Yost $11,395; and Senate President Tom Niehaus $11,000. Two Democrats—then-House Speaker Armond Budish and Rep. Ted Celeste of Columbus—received $10,000 each. xxiiiLike Brennan, Mr. Lager also gave significant amounts to party organizations in 2009-10, with Republican committees receiving $86,093 and Democratic committees getting $42,000.