Criminals in test scandal should not get off easy

How on earth can Ohioans have any faith in public education when they know administrators in four of the state’s largest school districts lied about students’ performance?

One way to begin restoring trust would be to ensure those who in effect defrauded the public are punished severely. But it appears the state plans to pull its punches, in effect, on that.

Investigations spearheaded by the state Auditor’s Office determined “data scrubbing” occurred in the Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo school districts during the 2011-12 academic year. The practice involved removing some students from attendance records so their low grades would not result in lower averages for the districts.

In other words, some administrators in the school systems lied to the public about how well schools were performing. Try that in, say, a report to stockholders of a company and watch how quickly federal prosecutors swarm to file criminal charges.

The scandal broke as a result of allegations records had been altered in Columbus. This week, state officials informed 60 educators in that district – reportedly all principals, assistant principals and other administrators – that they are being investigated in the data-scrubbing probe.

Incredibly, the letters offer the administrators a deal: Give up your licenses to work in Ohio schools and the investigations will be dropped.

Loss of one’s livelihood is serious, of course. But the deals being offered will allow some criminals to walk away without being prosecuted. Some may move to other states and take up where they left off – perhaps deciding that data scrubbing there will advance their careers.

Again, what happened involved criminal behavior. But like so many other situations in government, it appears none of the criminals involved will be prosecuted. A strong deterrent against such fraud in the future will be thrown away.

This is no way to restore confidence in public education in Ohio. State officials should reconsider the deals they are offering.