by Brian Washington
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Within the last 10 years, since Hurricane Katrina ravaged parts of the state, Louisiana has spent about $700 million of the public’s money on charter schools currently open that have not exceeded a grade of “C” from the state. That explosive finding is contained within a new report titled “System Failure: Louisiana’s Broken Charter School Law.”
The report, released this week by the Center for Popular Democracy, also asserts that lawmakers need to put more money behind better oversight for charters and that, so far, failure to do so has hurt struggling schools and the students who attend them.
As the state has insufficiently resourced financial oversight, it has failed to create a structure that provides struggling schools and their students with a pathway to academic success.
Charter schools receive public tax dollars but are operated independently by non-profits. For the 2013-2014 school year alone, the state spent more than $831 million on charter schools. After poring over hundreds of pages of state documents, CPD has concluded that the state’s failure at effective financial oversight for charter schools has resulted in “millions (of dollars) in known losses from fraud and financial mismanagement” and that this may be just the tip of the iceberg.
Deborah Meaux, a classroom teacher with 38 years of experience and president of the Louisiana Association of Educators, said, “We’ve been saying this all along: If charter schools use Louisiana taxpayer dollars, these schools must be held accountable to Louisiana taxpayers. Most of these institutions have almost complete autonomy with regard to how they operate; who, what, and how they teach; how — if at all — they measure student achievement; how they manage their finances; and what they are required to disclose to parents and the public. Louisiana citizens fund these schools, so they deserve transparency surrounding school performance.”
The CPD report makes several recommendations to detect and prevent fraud, increase financial transparency and accountability, get more support to struggling schools, and collect better data on how charters are performing. CPD asserts that reform is necessary to protect students’ futures and the taxpayer dollars.
“Given the rapid and continuing expansion of state school takeovers and the charter school industry in the state through the investment of public dollars, Louisiana must act now to reform its oversight system,” reads the report. “Without reform, Louisianans face many more years of failing schools and millions — if not billions — of more dollars lost to charter school fraud and financial mismanagement.”
CPD’s report is already getting attention and is sure to make waves among charter school industry proponents, who look to Louisiana as a model for expansion. Since 2005, charter school enrollment has increased by 1,188 percent, and Louisiana’s Recovery School District — which is made up of struggling schools taken over by the state — is the first charter-only district in the country.
“Our students deserve better,” Meaux said. “If we continue the practice of siphoning much-needed public school resources to schools with no incentive for accountability, our system will spiral downward. It’s time to apply stricter oversight and more consistent standards for any educational institution being funded with taxpayer dollars.”