Ohio's charter-hunting AG goes down
May 14, 2008
A post from guest blogger and Fordham Vice President for Ohio Programs & Policy Terry Ryan .
Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann is embroiled in serious scandals and faces impeachment. His own political party (the Democrats) has disowned him, and he is under intense pressure from the Governor, the statehouse, and the media to resign immediately.
We take no joy in Dann's troubles, but his leaving office would raise some interesting questions. In September, Dann held a press conference to announce lawsuits aimed at closing two Dayton charter schools (he subsequently added two more schools). Dann cited the state's charitable trust laws and alleged that the schools had violated their "charitable" missions as 501(c)3 organizations because they were underperforming academically (see Gadfly's take on the first lawsuits .) One of the schools originally targeted by Dann has subsequently closed, but the second has vowed to fight the lawsuit. Oral arguments for that case are set for May 15 in Dayton.
If successful, this novel theory of trust law would effectively turn the state attorney general into a charter-school prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. Under Dann's legal theory, his office would determine whether a school is successful or not, thereby usurping the regulatory authority of the General Assembly, the Ohio Department of Education, and individual charter school sponsors. If the AG gets this authority, observers wonder what would prevent him from determining that nonprofit colleges and universities aren't up to snuff and should be closed? Or hospitals? Or any other nonprofit unloved by political supporters of the attorney general, whoever that might be? And why not then in other states, too?
Will the AG's potential impeachment or resignation impact the Attorney General's Office in this case? It's far too early to tell, but one good thing that could come from this bad situation is a more thoughtful approach to dealing with troubled charters than having them killed off by a hard-charging AG.