ODE, Peggy Lehner Actions Are Harming Ohio Taxpayers

By Scott Allan Pullins


I served as the leader of the Ohio Taxpayers Association for over 11 years.  During much of that time, we worked to educate Ohioans about state government and its wasteful spending, programs, and taxes.  Based upon that experience, what’s happening with the Ohio Department of Education (ODE), State Senator Peggy Lehner, and the Fordham Institute, should frighten every Ohio taxpayer. 




First, some background.  Over the past few years, Ohio’s charter schools have been under intense scrutiny from the media, the public, ODE, the Fordham Institute, and the Ohio General Assembly.  This scrutiny resulted in the passage of HB 2 and the rules to implement the new law.


But the implementation of these rules was very controversial and has so far resulted in at least one high profile lawsuit from the largest online charter school, ECOT3rd Rail Politics has extensively covered this issue throughout the process.


Many are now questioning the motives and tactics of the nonprofit Fordham Institute because they both serve as an organization that promotes education excellence but also serve as a charter school authorizer of brick and mortar schools in Ohio.  In other words, they have a financial incentive where charter schools are concerned.  In fact, some are speculating that the Fordham Institute wants to run all charter schools in Ohio.  Additionally, the Fordham Institute has long been a critic of online charter schools and one of the most visible and longstanding advocates of common core.


The Fordham Institute was founded as a center right organization, but in recent years that focus appeares to have shifted.  Some speculate this is because of the large amount of support they have been receiving from the pro-common core Gates Foundation and a foundation tied to former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  They have also partnered with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank led by former Clinton Campaign Chair, John Podesta.




State Senator Peggy Lehner is the Chair of the Senate Education Committee.  She is also an advocate of common core and was instrumental in implementing PARCC testing in Ohio.  As has been reported earlier, 3rd Rail Politics has learned that her sister, Kate Walsh, has worked extensively with Fordham Institute, a fact that may have been concealed by Lehner during this process. 


In addition, Lehner’s campaign committee is a top recipient of contributions from anti-charter teacher unions.  Just this year she reported over $15,000 in contributions from their related political action committees.  Meanwhile, her counterpart in the Ohio House, Education Chair Andrew Brenner, did not report a single contribution from teacher unions this year.  Not surprisingly, Brenner is a strong advocate of charter schools and an opponent of common core.


Lehner also ran the committee that studied testing issues and wanted to keep the controversial PARCC test around for another year.  After numerous complaints, and $26 million in expenditures, Ohio pulled out of the PARCC testing consortium in 2015.


What has also been puzzling to most statehouse observers is the newly aggressive behavior of ODE concerning online charters.  Everything changed in January 2016 as an earlier 3rd Rail Politics story points out:


In late January 2016 everything changed. ODE published their Handbook online.  The handbook laid out the new durational requirements being imposed on eschools and only on eschools.  This is a dramatic change from the enrollment-based funding model used by ALL publicly funded schools, for generations, and without approval of any Legislative body, the funders of government.


At the same time ECOT was informed they would be subject to an FTE review for the 2015-2016 school year.


Various eschools, including ECOT, raised concerns about ODE’s retroactive substantive change to its purported FTE funding standards.  Eschools document durational or login times for the purpose of ensuring students meet the 105-hour attendance rule.  Because they have never been required to prove duration they do not maintain the documentation needed to demonstrate a retroactive standard for proving the 920 hours of “learning opportunities”.


While ECOT parents and students are fearful of what might happen to their school, Senate Education Chair Peggy Lehner has cheered ODE on.  She is frequently the only critic of ECOT quoted in news stories.


Adding to this mess are the results of this year’s School Report Cards.  Most districts are graded as failing.  Less than 15 percent were graded as an A or B.  The state has now changed the measurements used to grade schools three times in the last three years. 


State Senator Peggy Lehner is at the center of this issue too.  While teachers, parents, and superintendents are fuming, Lehner says to stay the course. 


But it’s very difficult for most taxpayers to understand what course Lehner and ODE are on.  Common Core is a disaster.  PARCC was an expensive failure.  And now most schools are failing on report cards based upon a proprietary model that no one can see or understand.


Things look bad enough that more than a course correction might be needed.