State finds only fraction of Mahoning charter school students in class


Staff report

COLUMBUS

When state auditors showed up unannounced at a Youngstown charter school last October, they found none of the 95 students who were reported to be attending on site.

At another Mahoning County charter, 30 of 180 students were in the school on the day auditors visited. Two other Youngstown-area charters had enough absences that auditors are suggesting further investigation.

Administrators offered reasons for the absences — an early release following morning testing at one, challenges keeping dropouts coming through the doors on a daily basis at another.

The Mahoning schools were among more than a dozen statewide spotlighted by Republican Auditor Dave Yost Thursday in a report of attendance rates at selected charters, which receive funding based on student enrollment.

Of the 30 schools checked, more than half had fewer students on site during multiple surprise visits by auditors than enrollment reported to the state.

Yost said the results don’t necessarily mean the schools are operating fraudulently or that their attendance rates have been inflated to net increased state funding. He also cautioned that the reviews were not all-encompassing audits of charter operations — rather, they focused strictly on student attendance.

But Yost said the results should prompt lawmakers and state education officials to consider law and policy changes to hold charter schools more accountable for the public funding they receive.

“This is a problem for Ohio from a budget standpoint,” he said. “... As an auditor, I’m worried anytime I see money that’s being spent where I can’t tell whether it’s being properly spent. But beyond that, these charter schools are not there just for kids that go there. These charter schools are there because we want an Ohio that has educated kids, that has kids that become adults that are productive members of society.

Read more of his remarks and reaction from our local legislators in Friday's Vindicator or on Vindy.com.