How 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?
Some charters do make changes in internal controls to correct procedures, but of the 159 citations, nearly one third were old problems, never corrected.
Dig a little deeper in the audit report and even more problems were reported. There were 103 charters cited for 159 weaknesses in internal control and non compliance with rules and laws. Seventeen audits found material weaknesses in internal control. These include incorrect accounting, inadequate separation of duties, deficiencies in bank reconciliations and loan approvals. Basically, the books were so poorly maintained that it would be difficult to track where the money goes and to whom.
The ultimate resolution is that charters close. Overtime, 313 charters in Florida have closed. Over the last three years (20013-15), 87 charters have closed. As one might expect, Dade and Broward have the largest number of closures closely followed by Hillsborough.
RedefinEd reported that Florida’s closure rate is disproportionately high. One could argue that a high closure rate is good; low performing charters are more often closed in Florida than in other states. An alternative view is that Florida is so lax in charter authorization and oversight, that too many mismanaged charters exist and continue to fail.
If failure is good from a market perspective, is it also good from a family’s perspective? Families that choose charters can leave them, or charters can leave families in the lurch. In a world with increasing privatization of schools, I hate to think that it is turning into a death spiral for education. Families leave public schools, and public schools loose support. When families choose charters, and they fail, the public schools they left have fewer resources and may struggle to meet student needs. Without a public school system we can count on, everyone loses. It is time to rethink educational policy in Florida.