Way out on the Panhandle of Florida, near the Alabama border, Newpoint Academy and Newpoint High charter schools received over $27,000 in school recognition funds from the Florida DOE for their excellent achievement gains.
Sometimes miracles really do not happen. Instead, money is wasted, and the good news covers fraudulent behavior. These problems are not unique to the Panhandle. One out of five charters fail in Florida, and there are over 600 of them. Some charters should have never opened. North Carolina is trying to avoid Florida’s mistakes. Florida is often called a leader in school choice. This time it is not a compliment.
Allegations against the Panhandle charter schools began in 2014. Now Escambia School District and the Florida State Attorney are involved. The district has decided to close the schools. It all began with grade tampering charges against a teacher. As the investigations grew, it became apparent that this was one of many charges. Students were not completing curriculum requirements, academic records were missing, teachers were drinking alcohol with students, some staff background checks had not been done according to this report from North Carolina. Students are caught in the middle. It is not clear whether all students will receive grades. Even worse, some students do not know if they will receive a high school diploma.
Why is North Carolina interested? It seems that the Newpoint Education Partners (NEP), the management company, has petitioned to open four new schools there. Their Charter School Advisory Board received word of problems in Florida and expressed concern about their proposals. North Carolina was considering 18 new charter applications this year. Twelve were approved yesterday by the State Board of Education; four were on hold, and two were withdrawn. In addition, for the first time, the SBE voted to close a charter school and is reviewing three more that are having problems. North Carolina may be learning from Florida’s mistakes.
NEP has ten charters in Florida; NC Policy Watch reports that 4 are ‘F’ schools, one is a ‘D’, 4 are ‘C’ schools and one earned an ‘A’ grade. While low school grades may simply indicate that the schools serve at risk children, they may also indicate that there is a need for close scrutiny of management practices.
The fraud, waste and abuse in charter schools is widely reported. Trying to solve these problems one at a time will not result in improved quality. If the goal is to increase the number of charters rather than the quality, problems will continue to frustrate everyone and harm children. Higher standards for approving charter school proposals, and those people and organizations behind them, are needed. Stronger proposals are only part of the solution. Better management oversight of charters is needed, and curbs on profiteering have to be enacted. Some states have recognized that the charter system needs stronger controls. Florida could learn from them.