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The Biggest Charter School Theft in Georgia History

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Molly Bloom of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes here about the biggest theft in the brief history of charter schools in Georgia. That state is in the process of expanding the number of charters and is considering creating an “Achievement School District,” modeled on the failed ASD in Tennessee, in which low performing schools are turned over to charter operators.

Here is the story of Atlanta’s Latin Academy Charter School.

A $12,000 charge at a strip club. Thousands of dollars spent at Mercedes-Benz of Buckhead. ATM withdrawals of hundreds of dollars at a time.

The charges to Atlanta’s Latin Academy Charter School should have raised eyebrows. For the top state education officials and corporate executives on the school’s board, they should have set off earsplitting sirens.

Instead, the charges continued for years, siphoning more than $600,000 in taxpayer dollars that should have been spent on students.

Christopher Clemons, the school’s founder, has been charged with fraud and theft in the largest such case in Georgia charter school history.

Clemons left Atlanta after the losses were discovered.

He left a rented townhome strewn with Hermes boxes, lease paperwork for a new BMW, used boarding passes and a Rolex receipt.

He left the school so financially troubled that board members closed it.

He left nearly 200 children with few options.

And he left a cautionary tale for Georgia’s growing charter school movement. Latin Academy, with its all-star board and experienced leader, seemed on track to thrive. But behind that facade of apparent success, the school spent millions of tax dollars with little public scrutiny and operated with a lack of public input foreign to many traditional public schools.

Latin Academy’s academic performance ranked in the top 25 percent of all Atlanta middle schools in an area where neighborhood middle schools are better known for hallway chaos than academics.

Clemons is presently in jail in Colorado, awaiting extradition to Georgia.

In the last decade, the number of students in charter schools has tripled to 91,000, with more growth expected. In addition, the legislature allows entire districts to have “charter-like” freedoms, which means deregulation and freedom from oversight.

Expect more scandals, fraud, corruption, and theft. If men were angels, there would be no reason for oversight or regulations.

Could someone explain why deregulation is supposed to create better education?

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