David L. Brennan’s White Hat Management, whose 46 charter schools include one in Springfield, is being sued by the boards of nine northeast Ohio schools who say the for-profit company won’t reveal how many taxpayer dollars go for educating kids and how many end up in its corporate coffers.
But if the Ohio General Assembly approves legislation pushed by Brennan, White Hat may not have to worry about the pending court case. The legislation, which passed the Ohio House of Representatives, would allow charter school operators like White Hat to do an end-run around their nonprofit governing authorities.
Critics say it’s an attempt by Brennan to use his political influence — he’s contributed millions to GOP election campaigns — to decrease oversight of his 31 Ohio schools, 20 of which are in academic emergency or on academic watch.
Earlier this month, Brennan successfully lobbied the GOP-led Ohio House for a amendment that would allow White Hat to keep secret details of how it spends the public money it receives to run its K-8 Hope Academies and its LifeSkills Center high schools, including Life Skills Center-Springfield at 1637 Selma Road. The legislation, contained in the House version of Gov. John Kasich’s two-year budget bill, is now before the Ohio Senate Finance Committee, where seven of the eight members of the Republican majority have received campaign contributions from Brennan.
Akron-based White Hat is the state’s largest charter school operator and one of the nation’s biggest for-profit charter chains.
Last year White Hat’s Ohio schools received more than $78 million from the state, records show. Officials of the left-leaning think tank Innovation Ohio estimate White Hat schools have collected $500 million in taxpayer money since 2000.
“It even makes the supporters of charter schools blush — and they’re hard to embarrass,” said think tank spokesman Dale Butland.
Innovation Ohio said Brennan and his family have made $3 million in campaign contributions, mostly to Republican candidates and GOP accounts. Public records show Brennan, a wealthy former tax lawyer and industrialist, owns a $500,000 home in Akron and a $6 million home in Naples, Fla.
White Hat operated 31 Ohio charters as of the 2009-10 school year.
Eight were in academic emergency, including LifeSkills Centers in Dayton, Middletown and Springfield; 12 were on academic watch, nine were rated continuous improvement and two were rated effective. None was rated excellent.
And how are schools like pizza shops? Let Governor Kasich explain: