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System Failure: Charter Schools in Louisiana

fail-box-illustration-design

Since 2005, approximately $700 million in public tax dollars have been spent on charter schools that currently have not achieved a C or better on the state’s grading system.

New Orleans was to show the success of the privatization of public schools after the takeover of the system following Hurricane Katrina. See the introduction to the Shock Doctrine titled Blank is Beautiful: Three Decades of Erasing and Remaking the World to find out the root of the corporate takeover of the New Orleans public school system.

The so-called success of charter schools in New Orleans never happened and in fact, it has been a disaster. See The Cruel Hoax of “Choice” With Charter Schools, So much for school choice in New Orleans and elsewhere, and Rethinking Schools interview with Karran Harper Royal titled Colonialism, Not Reform: New Orleans Schools Since Katrina.

To follow is a report issued in May of 2015 by the Center for Popular Democracy and the Coalition for Community Schools that describes some of the details of the failure.

System Failure: Louisiana’s Broken Charter School Law

Underinvestment in Oversight Leaves Louisiana’s Charter Schools Vulnerable to Financial Fraud and Academic Failures

Executive Summary

In the ten years since Hurricane Katrina, post-storm changes to the state’s charter school law have dramatically grown the number of charter schools in the state.

Since 2005, charter school enrollment in the state has grown 1,188 percent. Through this growth, the Louisiana Department of Education’s Recovery School District—created to facilitate state takeover of struggling schools—has become the first charter-only school district in the country, with other states lining up to copy its model. Louisiana taxpayers have invested heavily, paying billions of dollars to charters and state takeover schools since the storm, including over $831 million in the 2014/2015 school year alone.

The rapid growth and massive investment in charter schools has been accompanied by a dramatic underinvestment in oversight, leaving Louisiana’s students, parents, teachers and taxpayers at risk of academic failures and financial fraud. The state’s failure to create an effective financial oversight system is obvious, as Louisiana charter schools have experienced millions in known losses from fraud and financial mismanagement so far, which is likely just the tip of the iceberg. According to standard forensic auditing methodologies, the deficiencies in charter oversight throughout Louisiana suggest tens of millions of dollars in undiscovered losses for the 2013-14 school year alone.*

In this report, we identify three fundamental flaws with Louisiana’s financial oversight of charter schools:

Oversight depends too heavily on self-reporting by charter schools or the reports of whistleblowers. Louisiana’s oversight agencies rely almost entirely on audits paid for by the charters themselves and whistleblowers. While important to uncover fraud, neither method systematically detects or effectively prevents fraud.

The general auditing techniques used in charter school reports do not uncover fraud on their own. The audits commissioned by the charter schools use general auditing techniques designed to expose inaccuracies or inefficiencies. Without audits specifically designed to detect and uncover fraud, however, state and local agencies will rarely detect deliberate fraud without a whistleblower.

Inadequate staffing prevents the thorough detection and elimination fraud. Louisiana inadequately staffs its charter-school oversight agencies. In order to carry out high-quality audits of any type, auditors need enough time. With too few qualified people on staff—and too little training for existing staff—agencies are unable to uncover clues that might lead to fuller investigations and the discovery of fraud.

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. While underinvesting in the dissemination and implementation of successful strategies to lift academically struggling schools up, state lawmakers have continued to invest in both charter expansion and conversions of public schools to charters. Coupled with an unwillingness to help failing schools succeed, the rapid growth of charters has failed Louisiana children, families and taxpayers. Since 2005, approximately $700 million in public tax dollars have been spent on charter schools that currently have not achieved a C or better on the state’s grading system.

In this report we identify two fundamental flaws with Louisiana’s academic oversight of charter schools:

■ Underinvestment in systems that help struggling schools succeed. Lawmakers and regulators have invested in systems that set high standards and then close schools that fail to meet them, rather than helping them improve to meet the standards. This investment in a severe accountability system does not support schools achieve academic success.

■ Heavy reliance on data that is vulnerable to manipulation. The state’s academic oversight system relies largely on sets of data that can be manipulated by regulators, authorizers, or the charters themselves. Without reliable data, schools, parents and the public have no way to accurately gauge academic quality at their schools.

To read this report in full, go to Popular Democracy.

Submitted by Dora Taylor

One comment on “System Failure: Charter Schools in Louisiana

  1. Greg
    July 19, 2015

    Please come speak on Tuesday at the Summit #2 community meeting. Bring your friends. :)

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