Report shows half of Richmond’s charter schools have substandard financial accountability and lack parent engagement
on November 20, 2018
Seven charter schools in Richmond were among 43 charter schools in the state found to have faulty records for funds generated by high needs students, says a report by nonprofit law firm Public Advocates.
The report published this year by the advocacy organization known for working with low income communities to bring strategic policy reform found that the charter schools were not abiding by state guidelines. The Local Control Accountability Plan and Local Control Funding Formula are state guidelines adopted in 2013 to help public schools keep track of funds received from the government.
“Our findings are discouraging, there’s some cleaning up to do,” said Rigel Massaro, a senior staff attorney at Public Advocates. Charter school organizers are “inexperienced” in accurately documenting the accountability plan and funding formula, she said.
This report has fueled the charter versus district school debate because it comes at a time when charter schools are under great scrutiny as a result of inadequate financial records. Public Advocates’ findings suggest that there’s a double standard for charter schools that have, “more control over their schools but less accountability,” Massaro said.
Approximately 10 percent of students in the state attend charter schools, the report states. Charter schools receive $3.4 billion from the five-year local funding plan to improve school services and programs. Nine hundred million of these funds are used by high needs students, according to the report.
District schools are required to show how they spend their money by posting financial documents online in order to be eligible for funding in the following academic year. But, charter schools aren’t obliged to post these documents online, which creates potential for unreliable accounting practices.
Brittany Chord Parmley, spokesperson for the California Charter Schools Association, said in an emailed statement that the report is biased because it only looked at 43 charter schools, when there are more than 1,200 in the state.
“This is hardly a ‘systemic’ analysis, instead it’s yet another attempt from special interests to prioritize politics over kids,” the statement said.
The charter schools’ association said in its statement that Public Advocates showed its, “commitment to misleading the public and contributing to a toxic political environment that pits the establishment against kids.”
The other six schools found to be at fault of submitting inaccurate documents were Summit Public School: Tamalpais, Aspire Richmond California College Prep, Aspire Richmond Technology Academy, Caliber: Beta Academy, Leadership Public Schools: Richmond and Manzanita Middle School.
Tana Monteiro of Richmond College Prep Schools said in an interview that the school wasn’t contacted but when the report was published she, “recognized it’s hard to capture all that information” proving where and how funds were spent.
The other six schools that were investigated did not responded to repeated requests from Richmond Confidential for comment.
The report shows inconsistencies in documents submitted by the seven charter schools. They claimed to have budgeted a total of $2.9 million in the past academic year, but the schools collectively received $4.9 million from the government that same year, the report states.
Richmond College Prep said in its documentation that it budgeted more than $800,000 during the last academic year. But, the school only received about $770,000 in that same year.
“I feel strongly that there wasn’t any lack of use of funds,” said Monteiro, the school’s engagement coordinator. “We struggled in describing where the funds went because our focus is not on capturing the data, but it’s on the kids.”
In addition to inconsistent financial records, the report also said that six of the seven charter schools, including Richmond College Prep, had no metrics in place for parent engagement.
Monteiro said the school plans on reviewing its budget and accountability plan with parents in future meetings as a result of the findings in the report.
The school needs “to be more intentional” about its plans to improve transparency and parent engagement, Monteiro said. It hasn’t, “had the chance to fully talk about all the recommendations” made by Public Advocates, she said. But she said it does “plan to have more eyes” on the accountability plan during documentation.
The report’s coauthor Massaro said despite challenging the autonomy of charter schools, the report is “not a free pass” for district schools.
The district should have better options, “so parents don’t have to go shopping around for schools” to send their children because “transparency, accountability and engagement are good values for any education system,” Massaro said.
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