Charters Out of Bounds
In October, California State Auditor Elaine Howle issued a report finding that some school districts use exceptions in state law to authorize taxpayer-funded charter schools that operate outside of their geographic boundaries. This has “allowed districts to increase their enrollments and revenue without being democratically accountable to the communities that are hosting the charter schools,” Howle wrote in the accompanying public letter.
The report says these charters are inadequately monitored, both financially and academically. As a result, students at three of the schools featured in the report have suffered: Their charters performed far worse on state standardized tests than comparable schools, and two closed because of financial difficulties, forcing 500 students to find new schools.
A year ago, the state Legislature requested that Howle look into three districts known to have charters outside their geographic boundaries: Acton-Agua Dulce Unified, Antelope Valley Union, and New Jerusalem Elementary. But since the state does not keep a list of charter locations, there is no way to know the total number of charters located outside their authorizing district’s boundaries. CTA-co-sponsored SB 808, which would require that all charter schools be located in the school district where they are authorized, is currently stalled in the Legislature.
California Virtual Academies Must Pay $2 Million to State
The California Virtual Academies and three Insight Schools of California (together CAVA) must remit nearly $2 million to the California Department of Education (CDE) in improperly used Common Core education funds.
This and other actions required by CDE stem from an audit conducted by the State Controller’s Office and commissioned by CDE. The July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2016, audit was released in October. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson says CDE is also asking CAVA for a new audit of its average daily attendance (ADA) records, and additional documentation regarding oversight fees, pupil-teacher ratio, progress of students age 19 to 22, memorandums of understanding, and organizational independence.
ADA is the most important factor in determining the amount of state funds each school receives. The audit found that attendance records were not adequately supported for 12 to 15 percent of the students sampled. This could mean that attendance records may be insufficient for 1,500 to 1,900 of CAVA’s nearly 13,000 students.
CAVA operates taxpayer-funded online charter schools in 45 of 58 California counties. While each school’s charter is authorized by a local educational agency and governed by a separate board of directors, the schools operate collectively by sharing teachers, administrators and some costs. CAVA schools each contract with K12 Inc., which provides curriculum, management, accounting, operational and record-keeping services. To avoid conflicts of interest, CAVA and K12 must be independent organizations.
The state audit, however, determined that CAVA was not organizationally independent from K12. See the audit.
The Education Civil Rights Alliance
In November, a group of organizations that are committed to protecting the legal rights of marginalized students, including NEA, civil rights and advocacy organizations, and government agencies, launched the Education Civil Rights Alliance (ECRA).
In announcing the launch to state affiliates, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García noted that “members are standing up as never before to ensure that every student, regardless of ZIP code, race, religion, gender, national origin, immigration status, disability status, sexual orientation or gender identity has access to a great public school.” ECRA, she said, brings together more allies than ever in that work.
ECRA’s mission is to create the largest compendium of legal resources about students’ civil rights for public use; bring widespread attention to violations of students’ civil rights around the country; use the resources of ECRA member organizations to pursue impact litigation across the country; and share best practices, strategies and model policies with fellow member organizations.