COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — Details about Ohio’s charter school scandal should not remain locked away on a disgraced state official’s private email server, a political blog claims in court.
Plunderbund Media filed the suit on May 10, demanding that Ohio’s Department of Education produce all personal communications from former charter school chief David Hansen.
It’s been nearly a year since Hansen “was forced to resign after it was revealed that he did not include the grades of online charter schools in a $71 million grant application to the federal Education Department,” according to the complaint, filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas.
Hansen is married to Beth Hansen, who ran Gov. John Kasich’s failed presidential bid. Though Kasich has denied involvement in David Hansen’s apparent data manipulation, Plunderbund says the scandal dogged Kasich in his campaign for the Republican presidential ticket. Because of the scandal, the grant money has been frozen.
“Ohio charter schools have been plagued with allegations of financial improprieties and charter schools ‘sponsor shopping’ to avoid scrutiny,” according to the complaint.
Plunderbund says “Hansen manipulated and falsified” charter school evaluations.
“In particular, Hansen omitted failing grades for certain charter schools from evaluation in order to boost the rating of two oversight agencies,” the complaint states.
The 2015 federal grant application that brought Hansen “included numerous inaccuracies,” according to the complaint.
Though Hansen told Uncle Sam that Ohio had no “poor-performing” charter schools in the 2012-13 school year, in reality “about a third didn’t meet a single standard on state report cards,” the complaint states.
Plunderbund says “Hansen also failed to mention that he had left off grades of failing online schools from sponsor evaluations, boosting their ratings.”
Public records have been critical to unmasking the scandal, according to the complaint, which notes that they have “revealed a coordinated effort among Ohio Department of Education staff to falsely inflate evaluations of some charter-school sponsors.”
Some emails document “that numerous employees had knowledge of David Hansen’s grade-fixing scheme,” the complaint states.
Since Hansen used his private Gmail account for DOE business, however, the state has stonewalled releasing all relevant records, Plunderbund says.
Indeed certain records “revealed a coordinated effort among Ohio Department of Education staff to avoid creating records that could be disclosed in response to a public records request,” the complaint states.
Plunderbund notes that Hansen routinely communicated with charter school sponsors, “many of whom would eventually benefit from his data manipulation.”
The media outlet notes that Hansen is not the only instance of someone in the Kasich administration using a private email account to conduct state business.
Kasich has advocated for charter schools throughout his tenure, the complaint says, noting that he “signed legislation that lifted the caps on the number of schools that a sponsor could have,” and pushed for changes to charter school oversight.
The Plain Dealer reported last year that major contributors to Ohio Republicans owned several of the online charter schools that benefit from the data manipulation.
Plunderbund’s lawsuit cites “‘reasonable suspicion’ that Hansen and the Department of Education have deliberately thwarted the Ohio Public Records law by creating, using and concealing personal GMAIL account.”
The news outlet is represented by Engel and Martin out of Mason, Ohio.
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