CA State Auditor finds charter schools prevent local accountability

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The California State Auditor criticized charter operator schemes that allow “authorizing” school districts to open “out-of-district” schools and receive funding taken from another school district’s boundaries with virtually no economic or public accountability for the money.

The 109 page study cited a host of disruptions that occur when an out-of-district charter school is opened:

“As a result, two of the three districts we visited—Acton‑Agua Dulce Unified School District (Acton‑Agua Dulce Unified) and New Jerusalem Elementary School District (New Jerusalem)—used exceptions within state law to authorize out‑of‑district charter schools that, in effect, expanded the districts’ reach into neighboring communities. However, our review found that Acton‑Agua Dulce Unified and New Jerusalem could not demonstrate that they complied with state law when they authorized Assurance Learning Academy (Assurance Academy) and Acacia Elementary Charter School (Acacia Elementary), respectively.” 

The study recommended the following:

    • Address the requirements related to districts’ authorizations of charter schools outside their geographical boundaries that are currently vague and ineffective.
    • Restore the local taxpayer’s voting power over charter schools inside of their districts by allowing citizens/school boards voting authority over the schools.
    • Reevaluate the financial incentives districts receive for opening charter schools outside their boundaries.
    • Formally track charters granted outside any district. The study found that over 10 percent of the State’s charter schools have at least one school outside of the authorizing district’s boundaries.
    • Develop procedures for evaluating their charter schools’ financial information so as to respond to indicators of financial distress. Charters with fiscal problems often close without warning to students or parents.
    • Institute monitoring practices to assure the charters are meeting appropriate academic standards which the study finds is currently below the average of comparable schools.

 

Parents and educators petition SDUSD to support L.E.A.R.N. campaign

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A delegation of San Diego educators and parents delivered a petition with thousands of signatures calling on San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten to settle a new union contract that addresses San Diego Education Association’s L.E.A.R.N. Campaign.

San Diego Education Association’s (SDEA’S) teacher-developed L.E.A.R.N. campaign focuses on key community needs; calling on the District to support all students by investing in Lower Class Size, Expanded Enrichment Classes, and other resources for students, and an end to policies that destabilize local schools.

Signatures were collected over the past six weeks at schools throughout the District.

The petitions include a commitment to participate in one of more than 100 pop-up picket rallies at schools on November 8.

CTA San Diego Service Center Council meets on member engagement

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San Diego- Strengthening local chapters through effective member engagement and advocacy was the overriding focus of this quarterly meeting of leaders, service center officers, and state council members.

Chairpersons representing regionwide community outreach, human rights, instructional and professional development discussed how putting member engagement a priority is in everyone’s interest in a post agency fee world.

Service Center Council chair Dave Szymanski introduced six guidelines that will determine the funding for local CTA Member Engagement Project Grants that will be approved through regional CTA management.

San Diego Service Center Council will also participate in town hall meetings on the issue of antiquated tax structures such as Proposition 13 that unfairly place the burden onto younger purchasers of homes while benefitting wealthy corporations. These “MAKE IT FAIR” meetings will be excellent community engagement opportunities for local chapters.

 

Online charter must repay millions to CA

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SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced today that the California Virtual Academies (subsidiary of K-12 Inc.) and three Insight Schools (together CAVA) must remit nearly $2 million to the California Department of Education (CDE) in improperly used Common Core education funds.

This and several other actions required by the CDE stem directly from an audit conducted by the State Controller’s Office and commissioned by the CDE. The audit, which covered July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2016, was released today and is available here: http://www.sco.ca.gov/pubs_special.html.

“The California Department of Education is committed to ensuring public schools follow the laws and regulations that safeguard taxpayer funds. It’s critical that our students receive all the resources they need to succeed,” Torlakson said. “As a result, my department is requiring payment of nearly $2 million from CAVA; a new audit of its average daily attendance records; and additional documentation regarding oversight fees, pupil-teacher ratio, progress of students between 19 and 22 years old, memorandums of understanding, and organizational independence.”

The actions are outlined in an attached CDE letter to the head of California Virtual Academies.

In the letter, CDE states that CAVA must commission an independent audit to determine the extent of the unsupported average daily attendance (ADA) it claimed. Based on the state audit results, attendance records were not adequately supported for 12 to 15 percent of the students sampled (40 of 289 students over a two-year period). If those percentages apply to the nearly 13,000 students enrolled by CAVA, it could mean that attendance records may be insufficient for between 1,500 to 1,900 students.

ADA is the most important factor in determining the amount of state funds each school receives.

CAVA operates online charter schools in 45 of 58 California counties. These schools are funded by taxpayers and offer an alternative to brick-and-mortar schools that allows students to receive assignments, complete lessons, and interact with teachers online or, in some cases, via telephone.

Each school’s charter is authorized by a local educational agency (the authorizing entity) and governed by a separate board of directors. However, the schools operate collectively by sharing teachers, administrators, and some costs. CAVA schools each contract with K12, which provides curriculum, management, accounting, operational, and record-keeping services. To avoid conflicts of interest, CAVA and K12 must be independent organizations.

In its findings and observations, the state audit determined that CAVA was not organizationally independent from K12 because it assigned too much authority to a K12 employee, improperly gave K12 check-writing authority, and devised a fee structure that bound the two entities too closely together. CDE is requiring CAVA to provide documentation showing that it is organizationally independent of K12.

CDE is requiring that CAVA pay back nearly $2 million based on the audit finding that CAVA’s restatement of prior years’ financial statements may have violated the schools’ memoranda of understanding with authorizing entities.

The audit reported these additional findings:

  • CAVA inaccurately calculated supervisory oversight fees paid to authorizing entities.
  • CAVA lacked sufficient documentation to support its claimed ADA.
  • CAVA lacked sufficient documentation to support satisfactory progress of students between 19 and 22 years old.
  • CAVA may have miscalculated its pupil-teacher ratio.

CAVA schools contracted to pay their authorizing entities oversight fees in excess of legal limits.

Tell Congress to continue health care for children!

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The Senate Finance Committee Wednesday held a markup for the KIDS Act of 2017 (S. 1827), which would reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Congress let the program expire on September 30 and now must extend it. CHIP serves nearly 9 million low-income children who are not covered through their family’s job-based insurance and are not eligible for Medicaid.

CHIP has been instrumental in reducing the number of uninsured children to record lows. Combined with Medicaid, CHIP provides crucial health care coverage for 40% of children. Timing is critical to extend CHIP. Some states do not have available stopgap funding to ensure the coverage and services provided under CHIP will continue to be available for low-income children. Thursday, the NEA Board of Directors lobbied members of Congress to extend CHIP. Click on the take action button to tell your members of Congress to act swiftly to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Take action through NEA at this website:

Rancho Santa Fe Faculty ask school board “Why are you withholding dollars meant for the classroom?”

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Rancho Santa Fe – Rancho Santa Fe Faculty Association (RSFFA) members attended the Thursday October 5 Rancho Santa Fe School Board meeting with a clear message; in the midst of increasing teacher shortages statewide, competitive pay and benefits are necessary to attract and retain outstanding educators to serve the needs of Rancho Santa Fe students and community.

For years now, RSFFA has faced a school board that has offered sub-standard wages while demanding and receiving superlative work from its outstanding, professional staff. Educators here work longer hours than surrounding school districts for lower wages.

While RSF district officials continue policies that increase their bottom line and bloat the state’s four percent official Reserve Rate for Economic Uncertainties to over TEN TIMES the requirement, those dollars on account represent money locked away from students and educators-money meant for classrooms.

Negotiations began over six months ago and progress has been slow. Rancho Santa Fe Faculty Association is encouraging the school board to strongly consider an equitable settlement that benefits all students, educators, and the Rancho Santa Fe community.

MAAC educators rally for fair treatment

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For teachers at MAAC charter, it’s all about opportunity, student success, and quality educators. Twenty-five teachers, educators, and community allies arrived at the Chula Vista MAAC Charter School Board meeting on Thursday to communicate their ongoing concerns that their school can no longer compete for credentialed teachers to serve in the school under the company’s current compensation structure. In contrast to other public schools in the area that have increased their compensation at the rate of inflation, MAAC teachers lag far behind.

Skylar Roush, 2nd year at MAAC Charter Organizing Committee Chair explained their member’s concern, stating “The population of students that we serve require educators of the highest quality to help them find success. MCCS will not be able to attract or retain the best educators if we continue to offer salaries that are 10, 15 or even 20% lower than surrounding districts.”

Union leaders are convinced the school will never be as successful as it needs to be if we can’t offer competitive salaries, class sizes and workplace protections to quality educators. MAAC Charter needs to step up to the plate for our students and live up to our progressive mission statement.

MAAC parents and community supporters were surprised and disappointed in hearing about these issues. They were unaware of the situation but expressed they are on the teacher’s side and will be back to support them. MAAC needs to do more to assure all educators feel supported and valued.

It’s time for MAAC to do the right thing. Compensating outstanding educators fairly will help in attracting and retaining great teachers and will secure our school’s future success.

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