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Ohio teachers union requests inquiry into alleged charter school ‘union-busting’




Ohio Auditor of State Keith Faber. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)

One of Ohio’s biggest teachers unions is asking the Auditor of State to look into charter school funding allegedly used for “anti-union tactics.”

In a letter to Auditor Keith Faber, the Ohio Federation of Teachers first fired back at reports of an auditor’s office investigation into school districts named in litigation challenging the state’s private school voucher program. 

The union said they “wholeheartedly support the right of Ohio school districts to participate in litigation that can help define the state government’s responsibility regarding school funding.”

But the group said they didn’t see a reason for the districts to be the target of an investigation, “unless there is a specific reason to believe that malfeasance is involved.”

They cited the case of DeRolph v. State of Ohio, in which the Ohio Supreme Court issued multiple rulings, all of which found the Ohio education system to be unconstitutional.

In the years since, public school advocacy groups say the system has remained stagnant, but recent investment by the state in the Fair School Funding Plan has given them hope that permanent changes, most importantly an education system that pays based on the true cost to educate a student, are on the horizon.

That funding plan saw two years of investment in the last state operating budget, but the six-year phase-in didn’t come immediately, as state leaders said they couldn’t put future general assemblies on the hook for funding without knowing the financial situation of the state at that time.

It seems the funding will be a part of the newest operating budget, though that budget proposal is still being considered. The Ohio Senate just released its version of House Bill 33, the budget bill title, and it will face Senate Finance Committee scrutiny before a full vote in the chamber.

The upcoming budget seems poised to expand school vouchers to the point where nearly all Ohio families will be eligible for scholarships, to be used at private schools in the same area as the public schools they would typically attend without the scholarships.

The Senate’s version would increase voucher eligibility to 450% of the federal poverty level, which is an annual income of $135,000 for a family of four.

Meanwhile, in the OFT’s letter to the auditor, they offered a different topic of investigation, pointing the finger at Ohio charter schools.

The group accused the schools, which receive state funding but are considered independent of the traditional public school education model, of using state funding “on aggressive anti-union tactics, commonly known as ‘union avoidance’ or ‘union-busting.’”

As an example, OFT mentioned a November 2022 petition submitted by staff at the KIPP Columbus charter school “for union recognition with signed union cards for 78% of eligible employees,” OFT president Melissa Cropper wrote in the letter.

The administration then “orchestrated an expensive campaign of intimidation,” Cropper alleged, including a “frivolous legal challenge that delayed a secret-ballot union election by months.”

Since the schools receive public funding, though there are less regulations around the spending of the money than traditional public schools, the OFT said the funds “should be spent to educate students, not to prevent their employees from forming a union.”

“These schools should provide information on how much money was spent on anti-union legal support and consultants,” Cropper concluded in the letter.

Asked for comment on the letter or the opening of an investigation into the claims, a spokesperson for the Ohio Auditor of State’s office confirmed the agency had received the letter, and said “we are reviewing it.”

This story was republished from the Ohio Capital Journal under a Creative Commons license.

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