Seven of the District’s 60 charter schools were deemed to be financially low-performing and 21 schools were financially high-performing during the 2013-2014 school year, according to the most recent charter school financial review.
But the annual Financial Audit Review does not directly say which schools are at the high and low end of the spectrum of financial health.
A D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute report released this month recommends that the D.C. Public Charter School Board remedy this by publicly rating schools according to their financial performance, similar to the way it rates schools for academic performance.
Such a rating system would improve transparency and help parents understand a key indicator of a school’s management and success, said Soumya Bhat, education finance and policy analyst for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.
“It’s great they are putting the information out there, but it’s not as user friendly as it could be for parents,” she said.
Public charter schools, which enroll 44 percent of the city’s public school students, receive more than $600 million annually in local tax dollars. The schools are funded through the city’s per-pupil spending formula, which ranges depending on the needs and ages of the students served, as well as a $3,000-per-student facilities allowance. The District has some of the highest per-pupil spending in the country, but charter funding is a constant source of debate — and litigation.
Having accurate and detailed information about how schools spend money can help determine what level of funding is adequate and fair when compared with spending in traditional public schools.
The institute’s report analyzes school-level data that was released last May through the charter board’s annual audit review, and it found wide variations in each school’s cumulative per-
student spending and philanthropic support.
It recommended that the board report more information about how schools allocate funds for personnel and capital expenses, among other changes.
The charter board has taken steps during the past three years to add detail to the reports and make information more transparent, said Tomeika Bowden, a spokeswoman for the board.
She said it would be difficult to “adequately capture every management decision” for each organization in a single financial score. “We do not want to distract parents from the most important factor in choosing a school: academic quality,” she said.
In the coming year, the board plans to pilot a more parent-friendly version of the report, so that parents can get a better sense of a school’s financial health without a background in accounting, Bowden said.
The board’s annual financial audit review, published in May, includes “report cards” for each school’s financial performance, with information about deficits, cash on hand, debt ratio and net asset position. Spreadsheets with more detailed data also are available online.
In 2014, for the first time, the board began to report more information about schools that have contracts with outside management companies. Private management companies are not legally required to disclose detailed financial information, something that has created oversight problems.
Two lawsuits have alleged that D.C. charter school leaders used outside companies to divert millions of taxpayer dollars into their pockets. The two schools involved, Options Public Charter School and Community Academy Public Charter Schools, received favorable ratings for their financial performance during past financial oversight reviews — a result, charter officials have said, of limited access to financial records.
The board is working with the D.C. Council to pass legislation this year that would require private charter management organizations to report more detailed information.