ICYMI: Portman Enters Chartergate Fray With Support For Controversial $71 Million Grant

Akron Beacon Journal Reports Senator ‘Endorsed’ Grant Application after Taking Campaign Cash from Charter Business Bosses

COLUMBUS – U.S. Sen. Rob Portman entered the Chatergate fray this week when the Akron Beacon Journal uncovered that Portman weighed in with the U.S. Department of Education to endorse a $71 million grant application written by the very same charter school chief who resigned amid allegations he broke state law. The Beacon Journal reports Portman has taken campaign contributions from major players in the online charter business, which has a particularly egregious record of failing Ohio students.

Portman defended his support for spending $71 million taxpayer dollars on a charter system that is mired in fraud and failing Ohio students, with a spokesperson telling Cleveland.com that Portman has “confidence” the resources will be spent appropriately.

Portman is seemingly alone in that confidence, with even Republican State Auditor and charter school supporter Dave Yost telling the Columbus Dispatch he was “shocked” by the grant award. Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland and Congressman Tim Ryan have called on the Department of Education to reconsider the grant.

“Senator Portman was so deep in his Washington bubble that he blindly supported dumping $71 million taxpayer dollars into a charter school system that everyone knows is mired in fraud and lining the pockets of for-profit corporations at the expense of Ohio students,” said Ohio Democratic Party spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue.  “And now Senator Portman is so out-of-touch with the reality here in Ohio that instead of working to correct his mistake,  he’s doubling down on this plan to waste hard-earned taxpayer dollars on a fraudulent system that is failing Ohio kids.”

AKRON BEACON JOURNAL: Lawmakers question private scoring process for federal charter school grant

The two management companies that dominate the online and dropout school business are Akron-based White Hat Management and Columbus-based Altair Learning. The companies’ owners, David Brennan and Bill Lager, have donated millions to state lawmakers over the years, and it is state lawmakers that have been reluctant to raise the accountability standards specifically for those types of schools.

They also donated to U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, both of whom wrote endorsements for Hansen’s application for federal funding. A Tiberi spokesperson said that the Congressman attended an urban school district and supports school choice as an alternative to failing public schools.

Portman’s staff said the senator did not “support” the application, but rather asked that it be “considered.”

“This is what we do when we want to make sure Ohio gets its fair shake while also not weighing in on the merits of the application,” said Portman spokeswoman Cristyn Lansing.

CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER: Ohio Democrats, including former Gov. Ted Strickland, angry over $71 million charter school grant

Strickland, who is running against Sen. Rob Portman next year, said that Ohio’s charter schools should not be expanded because their performance lags behind traditional public schools. He also said he doesn’t trust Ohio’s grant application or the Ohio Department of Education’s ability to give out grants to schools.

Also joining in: U.S. Rep Tim Ryan, the Democratic caucus of the Ohio Senate, state school board member Mary Rose Oakar and State Rep. Teresa Fedor, the ranking democrat on the House Education Committee.

Strickland pointed to the July resignation of school choice chief David Hansen, following The Plain Dealer’s June report that Hansen and ODE had simply left F grades of online schools out of key charter school evaluations.  . . .

Strickland continued: “You just awarded $71 million in taxpayer dollars to a state department of education that has been rigging the books. The Department should go back over Ohio’s grant application and see whether it was rigged as well.”

Strickland, in his press release today, said Portman had written a letter to the U.S. Department of Education in support of the grant application. That letter this summer, as Portman’s campaign noted today, did not openly back the application but only asked for it to be given “due consideration.”

Portman representatives did not share Strickland’s concerns about how the money will be used.

“Senator Portman has confidence that Governor (John) Kasich will ensure the resources are spent appropriately,” said Christyn Lansing, Portman’s press secretary.