Do Ohio Voters Care about John Kasich’s Terrible Record on Charter Schools?

Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich has a less than stellar record on Ohio schools.

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The Tuesday primary is do or die for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has repeatedly said that he’ll drop his bid for the GOP nomination if he loses his home state: “Some of the other candidates, if they can’t win their home state, they got to get out, OK? If I don’t win my home state, I’ll get out. But you know what? I’m going to win Ohio.”

We’ll find out Tuesday night if his prediction comes true—Kasich currently leads Ohio polls by an average of 3.4 points—but if he does lose, will his role messing with, and up, the state’s education system play a role? Though he convincingly presents himself as the compassionate CEO and eager-beaver Boy Scout candidate, Kasich’s record on Ohio schools is sketchy at best, scandalous at worst.

Politico just did a deep dive into Kasich’s involvement with the Ohio charter sector, and the two-term governor doesn’t come off looking all that heroic. Charter schools have proliferated under Kasich; according to the Politico story, Ohio is in the top five states nationwide in number of charter schools:

Ohio … has more than 370 charters that enroll 132,000 students. … But the sector has been plagued with problems including mid-year school closures, allegations of financial improprieties and charter schools “sponsor shopping” to avoid scrutiny. Ohio has more than 60 charter schools sponsors, or authorizers, that open and oversee the schools. Critics have said having so many has led to runaway oversight.

The article also details a scandal surrounding Kasich’s former charter chief, David Hansen, who resigned in the summer of 2015 after failing to include the F rankings of the state’s online charters, which are a particularly troubled, low-performing subsector in the Ohio school-choice landscape, in a federal grant application: “Specifically,” Mother Jones reported last summer, “he omitted failing virtual schools operated by for-profit management companies that are owned by major Republican donors in the state.” After receiving the grant, the state was forced to admit that it had six times more failing charters than originally claimed, and the $71 million in federal grant money was frozen pending a review.

Though Hansen happens to be married to Kasich’s former chief of staff and current presidential campaign manager (yep), the governor hasn’t been directly implicated in the scandal. But this dust-up is by no means the first to mar the choice-loving Kasich’s schools record. While nationwide, the data on charter schools’ performance compared with public schools is mixed at best, Ohio charter-school students tended to underperform traditional public school students in both math and reading in all but the Cleveland district. And speaking of Cleveland, at the GOP debate in Detroit earlier this month, Kasich incited controversy both by overplaying his role in the state takeover of Cleveland’s failing schools and by proclaiming “Mission Accomplished!” when by most accounts those schools, with some of the most absymal scores in the state, still have a long way to go. Youngstown schools are likewise a mess.

But now the real question: Do Ohio voters even care about Kasich’s spotty education record? Education has been a back-burner issue at best in this election, and Ohio in particular has more pressing issues to contend with, like its decade-and-a-half-long economic downturn and the growing unemployment or underemployment in the state. Perhaps the reassurances offered by their safe, familiar governor will win out over the more visceral appeal of his main challenger, Donald Trump. Or perhaps everyone’s working too many part-time jobs to pay much attention to the schools.