They deserve better.
Charter schools benefit from a massive double standard, taking public money without being subject to the regulations or oversight applied to traditional public schools. That lack of regulation and oversight has a cost, in students' educational experiences and in dollars. More than $100 million
, as a new report from the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education shows. The report identifies six key types of abuse:
- Charter operators using public funds illegally for personal gain:
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 Minneapolis Star Tribune, the school “lacked funds for field trips, supplies, computers and textbooks.” A judge sentenced Mr. Pourier to 10 years in prison. Given the number of years, and the severity of the fraud, over a million dollars might have been saved had there been adequate charter oversight.
- School revenue used to illegally support other charter operator businesses:
For example, in 2012, the former CEO and founder of the New Media Technology Charter School in Philadelphia was sentenced to prison for stealing $522,000 in taxpayer money to prop up a restaurant, a health food store, and a private school.
- Mismanagement that puts children in actual or potential danger:
Ohio's State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Richard A. Ross, was forced to shut down two charter schools, The Talented Tenth Leadership Academy for Boys Charter School and The Talented Tenth Leadership Academy for Girls Charter School, because, according to Ross, “They did not ensure the safety of the students, they did not adequately feed the students, they did not accurately track the students and they were not educating the students well. It is unacceptable and intolerable that a sponsor and school would do such a poor job. It is an educational travesty.”
- Charters illegally requesting public dollars for services not provided:
[New Jersey] officials shut down the Regional Experiential Academic Charter High School after the state found, according to report in the New York Times, “a wide range of problems, including failure to provide special education students with the services required by state and federal law.
Some charter schools have also been caught illegally inflating their enrollment to collect money for students who weren't actually in the schools, while others have been tagged for general mismanagement of funds.
While some of the most egregious cases are found out, leading in some cases to prison sentences as cited above, we have no way of knowing how many similar situations haven't yet come to light. And in most cases, a prison sentence for the wrongdoer is all very well, but it won't get back the money that was supposed to go to educating kids. That's why the report calls for oversight agencies with teeth, able to catch fraud and mismanagement and actually do something about it; for charters to face the same transparency requirements public schools do, including following state open meetings and open records laws; and for charters to be governed by elected boards including parents, teachers, and, for high schools, students. Right now, in too many states charters are like the Wild West. Charter advocates like that when it lets them cut costs, increase profits and keep teachers non-union and as powerless as possible, of course. That's why we see so many state legislatures rapidly expanding charters without expanding oversight. They may not like straight-up theft, but it's a risk they're willing to run for all the other benefits of weak oversight.