The Grand Canyon Institute, a centrist Arizona think tank, this week issued the first of three reports looking at the financing of charter schools in the states.
The authors of the report say they continue to support the charter school experiment in Arizona, which has become a national leader. However, they are sounding warning bells that the state needs to act to ensure public funds are not misused.
They are calling for more accountability, and transparency, in the $1 billion of public money charter schools received in fiscal 2016. We agree with their assessment.
The report points out that charter schools can often reward huge contracts to itself or a member of its board, and there is no limit on the price they could pay.
One example they point to is a charter school paid $12.2 million in 2014 for software and curriculum to a for-profit company that was owned by the charter holder.
Mesa Unified School District estimates that it costs less than 10 percent what the school paid to maintain its online program.
This is not an outlier, the report says. More than 77 percent of charters use state funding for non-competitive, no-bid purchases that involve the charter holder or a family member.
If Arizona lawmakers want the charter school experiment to work, then they need to remove any temptation to take advantage of the situation and fill pockets full of public money. If there is no accountability, if no one is checking to make sure that Is are being dotted and Ts crossed, then there will almost certainly be corruption at some point. History teaches us that.
The state must hold charter schools accountable for the $1 billion a year they give this industry. This report found that administrators have larger salaries in charter schools than public schools, but teachers make more at public schools. The report also concluded that charter schools spend less money in the classroom.
And those higher salaries don’t mean that performance is better.
“Numerous cases were found where charter administrators’ salaries are shockingly high for the number of students they oversee,” the report states. “In one case, the executive director of a youth center that also includes a 90-student, single-location charter is paid as much per year as a public school superintendent who oversees 23,000 students. Adding insult to injury, the school in question received failing academic marks from the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools.”
The report says that nothing it found is illegal, that charter schools are following the rules. It is up to our lawmakers to change the rules to ensure the public’s money is being spent properly.