Charter Schools are Cheating Your Kids: Report Reveals Massive Fraud, Mismanagement, Abuse
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But the character of the movement has changed dramatically since then. As charter school growth has skyrocketed (doubling three times since 2000), “the risks are high and growing, while the benefits are less clear,” the report continued, adding:
This is not an uncommon occurrence in our nation’s history. In the past—in some cases, our very recent past—industries such as banking and lending have outgrown their respective regulatory safety nets. Without sufficient regulations to ensure true public accountability, incompetent and/or unethical individuals and firms can (and have) inflict great harm on communities.
The report found that “charter operator fraud and mismanagement is endemic to the vast majority of states that have passed a charter school law.” It organized the abuse into six basic categories, each of which is treated in its own section:
• Charter operators using public funds illegally for personal gain;
• School revenue used to illegally support other charter operator businesses;
• Mismanagement that puts children in actual or potential danger;
• Charters illegally requesting public dollars for services not provided;
• Charter operators illegally inflating enrollment to boost revenues; and,
• Charter operators mismanaging public funds and schools.
Perhaps most disturbingly, under the first category, crooked charter school officials displayed a wide range of lavish, compulsive or tawdry tastes. Examples include:
• Joel Pourier, former CEO of Oh Day Aki Heart Charter School in Minnesota, who embezzled $1.38 million from 2003 to 2008. He used the money on houses, cars, and trips to strip clubs. Meanwhile, according to an article in the Star Tribune, the school “lacked funds for field trips, supplies, computers and textbooks.”
• Nicholas Trombetta, founder of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School is accused of diverting funds from it for his private purchases. He allegedly bought houses, a Florida Condominium and a $300,000 plane, hid income from the IRS, formed businesses that billed even though they had done no work, and took $550,000 in kickbacks for a laptop computer contract.
• A regular financial audit in 2009 of the Langston Hughes Academy in New Orleans uncovered theft of $660,000 by Kelly Thompson, the school’s business manager. Thompson admitted that from shortly after she assumed the position until she was fired 15 months later, she diverted funds to herself in order to support her gambling in local casinos.
Others spent their stolen money on everything from a pair of jet skis for $18,000 to combined receipts of $228 for cigarettes and beer, to over $30,000 on personal items from Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Louis Vuitton, Coach and Tommy Hilfiger. But the real damage came from the theft of resources for children’s future.
“Our school system exists to serve students and enrich communities,” said Sabrina Stevens, executive director of Integrity in Education. “School funding is too scarce as it is; we can hardly afford to waste the resources we do have on people who would prioritize exotic vacations over school supplies or food for children. We also can’t continue to rely on the media or isolated whistle-blowers to identify these problems. We need to have rules in place that can systematically weed out incompetent or unscrupulous charter operators before they pose a risk to students and taxpayers.”
Stevens was not just expressing a nebulous hope. The report also offered a set of proposals on how to go about reigning in the abuses. Initial suggestions on how to respond to each kind of abuse are presented in each of the six areas mentioned above, but there is also a comprehensive framework integrating them into a coherent whole.