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Los Angeles: Celerity Charter Schools Under Federal Investigation

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The Los Angeles Times has written extensively about the Celerity charter schools and their record of financial mismanagement, self-dealing, and possible conflicts of interest.

In this expose, the Times revealed that the founder of the charter chain was paid $471,000 a year, 35% more than the superintendent of the Los Angeles public school system. The article also documented use of the schools’ credit card for expensive meals, hotels, resorts, restaurants, chauffeured limousines, and other personal expenses.

Now, the Times reports, the chain of seven schools is under federal investigation and in danger of losing accreditation.

Los Angeles charter schools that are part of a network currently under federal investigation have been put on notice that their accreditation is in jeopardy.

Seven schools run by the nonprofit Celerity Educational Group are spread across the Los Angeles Unified School District. Six carry the seal of approval of the Western Assn. of Schools and Colleges, commonly known by its acronym WASC, an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

On Wednesday, the association sent Celerity Chief Executive Grace Canada a letter saying that after a preliminary investigation, it had found the network to be in violation of several of the agency’s policies. It demanded that Celerity provide evidence to show “why the accreditation status of all CEG schools should not be withheld,” according to the letter signed by WASC President Fred Van Leuven.

Founded by a former L.A. Unified employee, Celerity Educational Group has been operating charter schools in Los Angeles for over a decade. In recent years, it has gone national, expanding into Ohio and Florida — where it struggled to gain a foothold and eventually withdrew — and Louisiana, where it still operates four charter schools today.

But after years of relatively little scrutiny, the charter school network is now the subject of two investigations, one by the inspector general of L.A. Unified, who has been looking into allegations of misuse of public funds, and another by federal agencies including the U.S. Department of Education.

In January, agents from the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and other agencies raided Celerity’s offices as well as the headquarters of a related nonprofit, Celerity Global Development, and the home of the organization’s founder, Vielka McFarlane.

Interestingly, the response from the charter was that what they did was not unusual in the charter sector. Everyone does it.

“In its review of the group’s financial records, The Times documented years of questionable spending by Celerity’s leaders and potential conflicts of interest.

“No one at Celerity, including McFarlane, has been charged with a crime stemming from the schools’ operations. Celerity’s leaders have repeatedly defended the network’s management and financial decisions as perfectly legal and typical of charter schools, which are privately managed but publicly funded.”

Despite the investigations, despite the revelations, the state education department wants to give this chain more students and schools:

Despite the questions surrounding Celerity’s operations, the network is poised to open two new charter schools next year. And on Friday, the California Department of Education issued a recommendation that the state Board of Education renew two of Celerity’s existing schools, which L.A. Unified had refused to grant another five-year term. The recommendation came with conditions that Celerity agree to turn over more information about its inner workings to state officials.

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