by Brian Washington
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Connecticut educators are supporting a decision by state education officials to begin proceedings to yank the license of a Windham charter school accused of defrauding taxpayers of $1.6 million.
“The state cannot allow these shocking practices to continue. Our children and their education—as well as state dollars—require protection from fraud and fiscal abuse,” said Sheila Cohen, president of the Connecticut Education Association, which represents thousands of educators across the state.
The State Department of Education recently voted unanimously to begin the process of revoking the charter of the Path Academy and its charter management company (CMO), Our Piece of the Pie.
In addition to opening up unauthorized schools in satellite cities, department officials say Path Academy and its CMO ignored excessive absenteeism and billed taxpayers for 128 phantom students.
The per pupil grant payments for the 128 students for whom the school lacked appropriate documentation to support enrollment represents a potential overpayment of $1,573,000 to Path Academy over a two-year period,” reads the report.
“The failure to maintain records establishing that students who were reported as enrolled in the data used to determine the per pupil grant payment were actually enrolled and attending school constitutes, at a minimum, failure to manage state funds in a prudent or legal manner.
State investigators also found that out of those students who attended Path, sixty-five percent were absent 50 or more days, and thirty-three percent were absent 100 or more days.
Privately managed charter schools receive taxpayer dollars, but, more importantly, they also drain critical funding and resources away from public schools. In 2017, Connecticut spent more than $7 million on charter school management fees—money that doesn’t even go to students or their education. These charters often put making a profit ahead of students learning.
Educators say the money lost on Path could have gone to help students in the state’s urban centers and poor districts.
They also point out that these dollars could have been used to continue funding a program designed to improve teacher development, quality, and retention. Lawmakers cut critical funding for the Teacher Education and Mentoring (TEAM) program last year. The program proved to be extremely useful to a high number of new teachers in urban school districts.
The Path scandal underscores the need for more transparency and greater accountability when it comes to charter schools and taxpayer dollars.
“Unfortunately, closing down Path Academy is the beginning, not the end of what is needed,” said Cohen. “The legislature must pass stronger laws that govern charter school management companies to ensure that they follow the law, and not defraud the public.”