Charter Schools Michigan Minnesota Ohio

ProPublica: Who Guards the Guardians?

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Did you know that charter authorizers in many states are paid a fee for every student who enrolls in a charter they oversee? Did you know this fee removes any incentive to demand accountability?

This article shows how fraught with self-dealing, conflicts, and indifference many of these relationships between authorizers and charters are. It is a wild, wild world out there.

Consider this:

“Nestled in the woods of central Minnesota, near a large lake, is a nature sanctuary called the Audubon Center of the North Woods. The nonprofit rehabilitates birds. It hosts retreats and conferences. It’s home to a North American porcupine named Spike as well as several birds of prey, frogs, and snakes used to educate the center’s visitors.

“It’s also Minnesota’s largest regulator of charter schools, overseeing 32 of them.. ”

“Many of these gatekeepers are woefully inexperienced, under-resourced, confused about their mission or even compromised by conflicts of interest. And while some charter schools are overseen by state education agencies or school districts, others are regulated by entities for which overseeing charters is a side job, such as private colleges and nonprofits like the Audubon wildlife rehabilitation center…..”

“In 2010, an investigation by the Philadelphia Controller’s Office found lavish executive salaries, conflicts of interest and other problems at more than a dozen charter schools, and it faulted the authorizer – the School District of Philadelphia’s charter school office – for “complete and total failure” to monitor schools. In 2013, more than a dozen Ohio charter schools that had gained approval from various authorizers received state funding and then either collapsed in short order or never opened at all. [That hasn’t stopped Philadelphia from opening more charters.]

“Considerable state funds were lost and many lives impacted because of these failures,” the Ohio Department of Education wrote in a scathing letter last year to Ohio’s charter-school regulators. The agency wrote that some authorizers “lacked not only the appropriate processes, but more importantly, the commitment of mission, expertise and resources needed to be effective….

“It’s not just Trine. In the esoteric world of charter authorizing, there’s long been confusion and tension over the basic role of authorizers. Are they charter-school watchdogs, or are they there to provide support?

“In Ohio, many charter authorizers fall on the “support” end of the spectrum. Some go so far that they sell “support services” – back-office services, for instance, or even professional development – to the very schools they regulate. It’s a way for these groups to make additional revenue on top of the fees they’re allowed to charge the schools.”

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