Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Charters Misspend Lots of Money in Ohio. In Arizona: Who Knows?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 3, 2015 at 2:01 PM

We need some good old investigative journalism like this, courtesy of the Akron Beacon Journal, here in Arizona.
No sector — not local governments, school districts, court systems, public universities or hospitals — misspends tax dollars like charter schools in Ohio.

A Beacon Journal review of 4,263 audits released last year by State Auditor Dave Yost’s office indicates charter schools misspend public money nearly four times more often than any other type of taxpayer-funded agency.

Since 2001, state auditors have uncovered $27.3 million improperly spent by charter schools, many run by for-profit companies, enrolling thousands of children and producing academic results that rival the worst in the nation.

And the extent of the misspending could be far higher.
To be fair, we do get some good investigative journalism here in Arizona, especially given how shrinking budgets have stretched reporters to the breaking point — some of it looking at education in general and charters in particular — but this angle is begging to be explored.

The article is chock full of interesting facts.

When private firms audited the charters, they only found misspending in one half of one percent of those they audited. The state's audits found problems in 17 percent.
[The private audits] aren’t designed to detect fraud. They merely check revenues against expenses, ensuring tax dollars going in match receipts and cash balances.

Often, though, the receipts are unavailable.

“You have a system in Ohio, and everywhere else, where every single year charter school operators are getting audited. And every single year, those audits come up clean. It’s because they are not set up to catch fraud waste and abuse,” [Kyle Serrette, director of Education at the Center for Popular Democracy] said.


And the difference between state and private auditors was profound: For every $1 private auditors found to be misspent, state officials found $102 in their audits.
Arizona's regular charter school audits, like Ohio's, are conducted by private companies.

A recent study by the Center for Popular Democracy looked at charter school spending problems in 15 states including Ohio. The study "detailed $200 million in waste, fraud and abuse."

This is an accountability issue. Lots of charters in Arizona and elsewhere are spending their money properly and working hard to give their students good educations. Charters that are cheating the state and their students need to be rooted out and closed.

ARIZONA CONNECTION NOTE: A few days ago, I wrote about a perfectly legal scam being run by some Arizona charters with multiple sites. They take advantage of the state's small school funding supplements by pretending each school is an independent entity and keeping their schools' student numbers below 600. One of the groups of charters I spotlighted was Imagine Schools. The Arizona schools are part of a national chain that has had no end of problems in many states, including schools closed for poor performance. Well, it turns out five out of six board members at Imagine Columbus Primary Academy in Ohio quit, and the school may be shut down.
[T]he previous board “explored” closing the school with 150 students attending after clashing with Imagine Schools over several issues, including the academy’s $58,000-a-month lease.

The lease is with SchoolHouse Finance, a subsidiary of Imagine Schools Inc., raising questions about a possible conflict of interest.

Board members complained that the $700,000 annual lease consumes too much of the school’s $1.3 million annual budget. According to the Franklin County auditor’s office, the building, at 4656 Heaton Rd., is valued at $1,164,600.
Imagine schools are notorious for having disproportionately high rents, and that includes some of the Imagine schools in Arizona.

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