Columbus -- Republican state Auditor Dave Yost called on lawmakers and education officials to change the way they determine school attendance for state funding and increase oversight of districts after nine were caught manipulating enrollment numbers.
Schools in Canton, Cincinnati and Montgomery and Hamilton counties were the latest to be added to the "scrubbers" list following an extensive review by Yost's office of district attendance records.
In October, Yost identified five other districts that improperly withdrew students to improve the scores they reported to the state, including Campbell City in Mahoning County and others in Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo and Marion.
Seventy other schools had errors in their attendance documents, but auditors did not believe there was evidence of scrubbing.
"The good news is that most of the school districts in Ohio play by the rules, they're clean, they're doing it right," Yost said. "I've heard it protested that these rules are ambiguous and they're hard to understand and people are either confused or didn't know what to do. That doesn't wash with me because we had such good compliance throughout the vast majority. … Everybody else was able to do it, it must be clear enough to be able to comply."
He added, "My conclusion is that they knew better, and for whatever their own reasons were, they chose not to comply."
Of the nine, Yost said he expects criminal charges to be filed against Columbus schools officials. He declined to speculate on potential legal action against the other schools, though he said he forwarded the audit results to federal investigators.
Yost's office headed an investigation involving more than 260 auditors, 331 individual schools in 137 different districts, at a total cost of $443,000.
Schools are allowed to withdraw students for a number of reasons, including transferring to another district or private school, being expelled or opting to home school.
Auditors focused on students withdrawn for truancy or nonattendance without proper documentation and court involvement.
In Mahoning County, for example, about 40 students at Memorial High and Campbell Middle Schools did not have supporting documentation in student files about their withdrawals and/or withdrawals were made retroactively at the end of the school year after test scores were determined, Yost's office reported in October.
Among recommendations, Yost is urging the state change the way it counts students for funding, relying on a year-round average attendance count. Currently, schools receive funding based on their attendance during "count week" in October, Yost said.
"A kid might not show up in September, might vanish in November and be gone for months but as long as they're there that week in October, ODE sends the full year worth of funding to that local school district," he said, adding in a later released statement, "Ohio's current system for measuring attendance and performance is obsolete and, in too many places, filled with error and bad information and even outright fraud. It's amazing that it works at all, and sometimes it doesn't."
Other recommendations include increased oversight by state officials of local attendance data, increased monitoring of at-risk students and increased training for school employees.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.