Ohio group seeks grand jury probe of ex-charter school head

Charter School

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A liberal policy group called Tuesday for a grand jury investigation into a former Ohio education official who resigned last summer after acknowledging he omitted failing grades from certain charter-school sponsor evaluations.

Six months have passed without a full-scale investigation of former School Choice Director David Hansen, ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis wrote. Hansen led the charter school oversight office at the Ohio Department of Education.

Theis notes in the letter to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien that his office successfully prosecuted several high-ranking employees of the Columbus City Schools who participated in a data manipulation scam with similarities.

“Columbus employees falsified student records to improve their schools’ standing on state report cards,” she wrote. “An ODE official falsified state ratings to improve the standing of traditionally low-performing charter schools. In both instances, top-ranking officials were responsible for scandals that wasted tax dollars and hurt children.”

O’Brien said he’s awaiting findings of an ongoing investigation by State Auditor Dave Yost.

Yost said earlier that a special audit of the charter office would not include Hansen’s actions because no public money was ever disbursed to the affected charter school sponsors. However, O’Brien said a regular audit of the Ohio Department of Education was still underway, from which referrals could be made. A message seeking comment was left with Yost.

Hansen acknowledged omitting “F” grades of certain online and dropout recovery schools from sponsor evaluations so as not to “mask” successes elsewhere. He resigned, and the evaluations were retracted.

Hansen has said he had been working to employ a new state law that was “not a model of clarity” and designed the most practical implementation of it that he could. He is the husband of Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign manager, Beth Hansen.

Hansen’s actions raised concerns at the U.S. Department of Education, which sought to award a $71 million federal grant to Ohio to benefit quality charter schools. Those grant funds have been placed under watch as the program is sorted out.

Former Superintendent Richard Ross announced adjustments to the charter school sponsor evaluation system just before his Dec. 31 retirement. Ross’ recommendations dovetailed closely with recommendations of an independent panel charged with reviewing the evaluation system after Hansen resigned.

The guidelines call for charter school sponsor evaluations to judge sponsors on the same academic performance criteria used in school report cards issued to traditional public schools and for rating the sponsors on their compliance with Ohio laws and administrative rules. They specifically say all grades for online and dropout-recovery schools, those omitted by Hansen in some cases, must be included.

Theis told O’Brien in the letter there’s “good cause” to believe Hansen may have violated state laws involving falsification, tampering with records, dereliction of duty and obstructing official business.

(Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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