CLEVELAND - An exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation into a chain of Ohio charter schools has sparked a strong reaction from an Ohio lawmaker who is calling for stronger oversight into how Ohio charter schools spend taxpayer funds.
The report revealed that some Horizon Science Academy schools across Ohio used nearly $13,000 of taxpayer money for immigration and legal fees for teachers recruited overseas -- many of them from Turkey.
State auditors found some who received immigration and legal fees were never employed at the schools.
In 2008 and 2009, immigration records show at least 53 H-1B immigration visas were issued to Horizon Schools.
School officials said the number of visas has been declining over the years and that this year, only 51 of 596 employees are international teachers, most of whom are Turkish.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor opened a continuing investigation into immigration visas at one Horizon Science School in Cleveland on Dennison Avenue.
The Ohio Federation of Teachers has criticized the practice of hiring teachers overseas, while ignoring Ohio teachers who it said are qualified.
School officials insisted they simply could not find enough math and science teachers here in Ohio and were forced to look overseas.
State representative Matt Lundy (D) of Ohio's 57th District has been an advocate for charter school oversight in the state legislature.
"I think taxpayers have every right to be upset that these dollars are actually going to pay for foreign workers, on visas, to take jobs and work in positions that we know we have plenty of qualified Ohioans to do," said Lundy.
Horizon Science Academies are operated by Concept Schools, based in Chicago.
A spokeperson said the schools have discontinued the practice of paying immigration and legal fees and said they were limited to families of teachers recruited to teach math and science classes. The schools initially argued the fees were similar to moving expenses and believed the payments were permitted.
Concept Schools returned all funds used for such fees for schools in Cleveland and Toledo in 2006, but failed to notify the Ohio Attorney General's Office, which is responsible for tracking payments.
The schools notified the attorney general's office Monday after NewsChannel5 began asking questions about whether the funds had been reimbursed.
The schools also sent a letter home to parents about the NewsChannel5 story. Read the letter here: http://5.wews.com/AKZ
A spokesperson for the attorney general's office confirmed it received copies of checks and deposit slips associated with the reimbursements.
"We would have no way of knowing these had been paid, unless the schools notified us," said Dan Tierney, spokesperson for the AG's office.
An Horizon Science school in Dayton is also sending nearly $600,000 of taxpayer dollars over five years in rental fees to a Turkish owner for a building housing a Dayton school.
Meanwhile, Lundy said he believes Ohio charter schools continue to need increased oversight when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars overseas.
"I would love to have oversight so that this doesn't happen. In fact, I think this should be stopped. I don't think it should be happening at all," said Lundy.