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Charter Schools are Cheating Your Kids: Report Reveals Massive Fraud, Mismanagement, Abuse

Millions are being sucked from public schools and into corporate pockets.
 
 
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Just in time for National Charter School Week, there’s a  new report highlighting the predictable perils of turning education into a poorly regulated business. Titled “Charter School Vulnerabilities To Waste, Fraud and Abuse,” the report focused on 15 states representing large charter markets, out of the 42 states that have charter schools. Drawing on news reports, criminal complaints, regulatory findings, audits and other sources, it “found fraud, waste and abuse cases totaling over $100 million in losses to taxpayers,” but warned that due to inadequate oversight, “the fraud and mismanagement that has been uncovered thus far might be just the tip of the iceberg.”

While there are plenty of other troubling issues surrounding charter schools—from  high rates of racial segregation, to their  lackluster overall performance records, to questionable admission and expulsion practices—this report sets all those admittedly important issues aside to focus squarely on activity that appears it could be criminal, and arguably totally out of control. It does not even mention questions raised by  sky-high salaries paid to some charter CEOs, such as 16 New York City charter school CEOs who earned more than the head of the city’s public school system in 2011-12. Crime, not greed, is the focus here.

In short, the report is about as apolitical as can be imagined: it is narrowly focused on a white-collar crime wave of staggering proportions, and what can be done about it within the existing framework of widespread charter schools.

The report, co-authored by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education, makes the point the problem of charter school waste, fraud and abuse, which it focuses on, is just one symptom of the underlying problem—inadequate regulation of charter schools. But it’s a massive symptom which has so far received only fragmentary coverage.The report takes its title from a section of a report to Congress by the Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General, a report which took note of “a steady increase in the number of charter school complaints” and warned that state level agencies were failing “to provide adequate oversight needed to ensure that Federal funds [were] properly used and accounted for.”

But, the report noted, it’s not just the federal government that should be concerned. Reform efforts are underway in several states, Hawaii even repealed its existing charter school law in 2013, and put strict new oversight measures in place, and “Even the Walton Family Foundation, an avid charter advocate, launched a $5 million campaign in 2012 to make oversight of charters schools more stringent.”

“We expected to find a fair amount of fraud when we began this project, but we did not expect to find over $100 million in taxpayer dollars lost,” said Kyle Serrette, the director of education justice at the Center for Popular Democracy. “That’s just in 15 states. And that figure fails to capture the real harm to children. Clearly, we should hit the pause button on charter expansion until there is a better oversight system in place to protect our children and our communities.”

The report explained that the problem has its roots in a historical disconnect between the original intentions which launched the charter school movement and the commercial forces that have overtaken it since. At first, the report noted:

Lawmakers created charter schools to allow educators to explore new methods and models of teaching. To allow this to happen, they exempted the schools from the vast majority of regulations governing the traditional public school system. The goal was to incubate innovations that could then be used to improve public schools. i The ability to take calculated risks with small populations of willing teachers, parents, and students was the original design. With so few people and schools involved, the risk to participants and the public was relatively low.

 
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