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Kasich Campaign Hit By Charter School Data Rigging Scandal

Newly-released documents indicate that the husband of Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign manager participated with other Ohio Department of Education (ODE) staff in a coordinated effort to falsely inflate the evaluations of some charter school sponsors.

In July, former state Department of Education Director of School Choice David Hansen – husband of Beth Hansen, Kasich’s former chief of staff in the governor’s office and now his presidential campaign manager – resigned after admitting he manipulated evaluations of some charter sponsors, reports the Columbus Dispatch. The data rigging allowed the sponsors of poor-performing online schools to appear to be engaged in adequate supervision of those schools.

State Superintendent of Schools Richard Ross said the records show that neither he nor Kasich had any involvement in the data manipulation. The Dispatch, however, reports “emails show that some outside the department were asking for explanations.”

“We had a breakdown in our system which undermined the progress we were making in holding charter schools accountable,” Ross said. “Excluding e-schools didn’t cross my mind. It’s not what I believe; not what I’m about.”

Hansen, whose position was created in 2013 by Kasich to oversee the expansion of charter schools in the state, told the Associated Press that the state law pertaining to the evaluation of Ohio’s charter schools was “not a model of clarity.”

“I certainly believed that I was acting in good faith and that the design created a reasonable and workable reporting process which was consistent with the goal of the statute as I understood it,” he said. “Suggestions that my design was somehow ‘illegal’ ignore the ambiguity in the statute and the design’s goal of accurately evaluating Ohio’s charter sector.”

The controversy comes at a time when Ohio’s charter schools are under significant scrutiny, with problems of attendance and accountability surrounding the schools that are billed as an alternative to public schools.

And Hansen himself is not new to data rigging.

As Ohio Political blog Plunderbund reports, in 2009, while Hansen was president of the Buckeye Institute, he was also caught manipulating data about Ohio’s charter schools, yet was still chosen to be school choice director in 2013. Many of the schools involved were owned and operated by for-profit company White Hat Management, which itself is owned by David Brennan, a big donor – through his family’s foundation – to the Institute, to the Republican Party, and to Kasich’s campaign in Ohio.

Some state lawmakers and members of the state school board have recommended an independent investigation into the matter, particularly with some charging Hansen’s manipulations were meant to benefit Republican donors invested in charter schools and seeking high performance evaluations.

On Thursday, Kasich said he stood behind Ross.

“We will find out exactly what was involved in what he (Hansen) was doing and why he was doing it,” the governor said. “But we want top-rated, high-profile charter schools. And when we thought that the numbers weren’t right, Dick Ross talked to him and he no longer works for the state.”

In a review of the documents, Plunderbund reported, “Hansen was actively communicating with representatives of charter school sponsors who would eventually benefit from his data manipulation.”

“It also shows that ODE staff members intentionally avoided sharing the manipulated calculations via printouts or email, potentially shielding those calculations from public records requests,” the blog added.

In 2013, when Kasich created Hansen’s new position as state school choice director, current GOP presidential contender and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush visited Ohio Republican leaders to discuss education policy and attend a GOP fundraiser.

Bush, the founder and then-chairman of the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), was in Ohio to push his national education reform agenda, reported State Impact, which consists of six main agenda items, one of which is “adding charter schools, private school vouchers (since struck down by a court) and online schools to offer parents more choices.”

Additionally, both Bush and Kasich have been avid champions of the Common Core Standards.

“If those policies sound familiar, it’s because Ohio GOP leadership has successfully pursued similar policies,” says State Impact. “In fact, officials from Bush’s foundation have traveled to Ohio several times in the past couple years to lobby for those policies.”

Since Bush’s visit, Ohio’s legislature has raised limits on online charter schools and repeatedly expanded the state’s private-school voucher programs.

Bush’s interest in expanding charter schools in Florida came under scrutiny in September of 2014, when the St. Augustine Record reported that the St. John’s County School District found numerous “errors” in the charter application of New World Academy.

“I think we identified a number of errors in the application because it was a generic application that was applied to seven different districts,” said Tim Egnor, executive director for curriculum services for the school district. “The numbers for enrollment didn’t make sense, the budget aspects didn’t make sense, and so now we see that those projections were probably for larger counties.”

Additionally, district officials questioned a possible conflict of interest with corporations that were involved in New World Academy’s application process. Ultimately, the officials were unsure of who was backing the charter school’s application.

According to the Record, Stephanie Velez, manager of operations for InterVisual Technology (IVTI), had been appointed a board member of New World. IVTI is a nationally accredited private school based in Florida with a physical campus – American High School – located in Fort Lauderdale. One of IVTI’s supporters and board advisors was John Ellis “Jeb” Bush, Jr., the former governor’s son, who enabled the school to establish vigorous business relationships, networks for investment and real estate opportunities.

In 2013 as well, former Florida schools superintendent Tony Bennett resigned after the Associated Press reported that it had acquired e-mails written by Bennett in 2012, while he was running Indiana’s schools. As the Washington Post reported, in the e-mails Bennett directed his staff to alter the state evaluation grade for Christel House Academy, a charter school that was founded by Christel DeHaan, who has donated more than $2.8 million to Republicans since 1998, including $130,000 to Bennett.

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