Charter school corruption

Here’s how The Arizona Republic started a story detailing its investigation into charter school corruption in the state:

Board members and administrators from more than a dozen state-funded charter schools are profiting from their affiliations by doing business with schools they oversee.

The deals, worth more than $70 million over the last five years, are legal, but critics of the arrangements say they can lead to conflicts of interest. Charter executives, on the other hand, say they are able to help the schools get better deals on services and goods ranging from air-conditioners to textbooks and thus save taxpayers money.

Timothy Noah of the New Republic cited this and other charter school scandals in a piece entitled “How Charter Schools Fleece Taxpayers” that starts:

In government, if I help myself to taxpayer dollars, we call that embezzlement and I go to jail. In the private sector, if I help myself to taxpayer dollars, we call that innovation and I get hailed as a visionary exponent of public-private partnership.

Noah mentions other charter school scandals:

* This story in the Dayton Daily News starts:

Ohio taxpayers contribute millions of dollars to a Dayton-based charter school system known for the type of strong academic performance that would make any urban educator envious. But Richard Allen Schools are also becoming known for something less desirable: questionable oversight of how the schools are run and how their money is spent.

The story prompted the Ohio’s state auditor to investigate and recover some taxpayer funds from the schools.

* The San Bernardino County Sentinel reported that the county school district closed the Adalanto Charter Academy because “much of the academy’s academic imperative was suborned to the mercenary intent of those involved at the school.” 

* And he mentions the 2008 investigation by my Washington Post colleagues David S. Fallis and April Witt that says:

The Post’s review found conflicts of interest involving almost $200 million worth of business deals, typically real estate transactions, at more than a third of the District’s 60 charter schools. The conflicts are documented in thousands of pages of internal charter board documents, land records, tax returns, audits and other records reviewed by The Post.

This is actually the tip of the iceberg. You can learn more at a Web site called http://charterschoolscandals.blogspot.com/

No, this is not an indictment of all charter schools. Some do great things for kids. It is, however, the tip of an iceberg that is repeatedly ignored by school reformers who are insistent on opening more and more charters without sufficient oversight, all along saying it is “for the kids.” Funny so many adults apparently think it is more about their wallets.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | November 23, 2012