FINALLY! U.S. OIG Issues Charter Management Problems Alert

cash-burningThe U.S. Inspector General has recognized the serious nature of the charter management problems.  The League of Women Voters has been calling for  better transparency and management oversight for several years.  Now, the federal government has joined us—-well, a part of the federal government.

It is one step toward better accountability for our tax dollars.

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Charters: Deregulation has gone too far!

business-257880_1280In a new brief, William Mathis, head of the National Education Policy Center, argues that market based accountability for charter schools just does not work.  At first glance, Florida’s policies are better than in some states.  There are, however, some fatal flaws.

He makes the case for better oversight and regulation.  His recommendations take a national perspective and include these general process requirements:

authorizers, those who approve charter contracts, control the criteria for granting charters and the length of time charters are in effect.  Authorizers (in Florida, are the local school boards) must also specify the accountability mechanism for charters, and the state should fund oversight. 

The basic difference between Florida’s policy and this recommendation is that in Florida, districts are the authorizer of charters, but they have little control over the criteria charters must meet and little access to information about charter fiscal policies and practices.  The State legislature defines criteria for granting charters which are so broad that districts are not able to designate which charters are needed and actually are innovative.

The Florida Department of Education and the State Board of Education hold the reins of power.  Thus, oversight is by design, minimal.  No one ‘close to the store’ is watching what is going on behind the scenes.  Even many charter school oversight boards have little knowledge of school practices.  The press and whistleblowers ferret out problems that fester.

The brief also addresses operational policies i.e.:

Governance including budget, admissions procedures, discipline practices, and civil rights protection should be transparent.  Annual reports and audits must be publically available and facilities must meet building codes and inspections.  Staff background checks should be required.

Again, these recommendations, on the surface, are mostly met in Florida’s charter school policies.  Annual audits are  required.  Admission lotteries for vacant seats are mandated.  Monthly budget reports are available.  What is missing?  Basically two loopholes, aa mile wide, exist.  The first problem is that there is no corrective action for fiscal mismanagement that does not reach a crisis level or for lapses in operations that impact which students enroll, retention of teachers, or suspension or dismissal of students.

The second problem is the lack of transparency that for-profit charter management firms enjoy.  Budgets of their charter schools lack the detail of where and how money is spent.  These companies control the entire budget, but financial records of for-profit privately run companies are shielded from public view.  Thus, the public has access to charter school facility costs, for example, but no access to how these costs are generated.  In some cases, it is like giving a blank check that may be nearly half of the budget without explanation of where the money ended up.

The one consolation in all of the exposure of charter mismanagement is that it is now becoming part of the public discussion about school choice.  Privitizing schools may give the appearance of facilitating innovation, but the reality is too often that it results in the loss of public trust.

Charter School Audits: Not Good News

auditHow many struggling charters are too many?  The latest Florida Auditor General report is out.  It cites 92 (15%) out of 652 charters for general fund/unrestricted fund deficits.  In other words, they are spending more than they are taking in.  Six charters are in such bad financial shape, the report questions their ability to continue to operate.  When these audit reports come out, letters get sent and promises to do better are made until charters cannot pay their bills.

How many charters have failed in your district?

 

 

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Pinellas to shut down 3 charters

money-40603_1280Yes, more fraud, waste and abuse that Florida must address.  The Pinellas School Board voted to shut down three NewPoint charter schools today.  Windsor Prep, East Windsor and NewPoint Pinellas are all involved in an indictment for fraud.  Read the Tampa Bay Times editorial.  The editor calls for an investigation of two other NewPoint related schools which also appear to be involved in self dealing with tax payer money.

The same charter management company is indicted in Pensacola for grand theft, money laundering and white collar crimes.

 

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Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

justiceThe defense (Florida) in Citizens for Strong Schools argues that districts have enough money or can get enough through discretionary millage assessment on property taxes.  The problem they assert, is mismanagement and a reordering of priorities.  Do they have a point?   You can check out this claim in your local districts.  We are looking into budget priorities in Alachua County.  We have also looked at the state audits of the district in past years.  The hard choices they suggest are destructive choices.  They can rob the programs that the State brags about to help improve conditions for at risk kids.  Some choices are just bad choices.

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Charter Fraud: Ohio Style

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Florida has charter fraud problems and so does Ohio–among other states.  Privatization of schools opens up opportunities for profiteering without oversight.  The federal government has finally gotten involved in the Ohio charter scandals.  It took awhile. They are holding up a $71 million grant to they had awarded to expand charters.   This is one of those scandals from which the Governor cannot hide.

 

 

 

 

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HB 7029: School Choice Districts Created with Less Local Control

legislation1Legal frameworks for charter districts plus the creation of the Florida Charter School Institute, moves toward a separate educational system from the traditional public school system.

This bill creates the Institute for Charter School Innovation, Charter School Collaborative Networks, High Impact Charter Networks and some greater transparency in the backgrounds of charter school service providers.

The Charter High Impact Charter Network is a structure similar to those in other states that are called takeover districts in low income areas whose public schools are turned into charters.  These take over districts have been thee source of significant community resistance and have a poor academic track record.  The bill is sponsored by Representative Bob Cortes from Seminole and Orange Counties.  HB 7029 School Choice will be heard in the House Education Appropriation Committee on Monday.

Major components of the bill are listed below.  The provisions to revise the calculation of full time equivalence for online learning and credit for End of Course exams are in the bill but not included in this summary.

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