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Campaign Updates

| Holding Charter Schools Accountable, Promoting Strong Public Schools

Calls Renewed for Charter School Regulations

The Philadelphia Tribune - December 12, 2014, by Wilford Shamlin -A new report calls for tighter regulations of Philadelphia charter schools, concluding wasteful spending at the privately managed schools costs a yearly average of more than $1.5 million of taxpayers’ money, and more than $30 million since 1997.

“Pennsylvania lawmakers have not given oversight bodies the tools they need to detect that fraud and stop it early,” according to a report prepared by three nonprofit agencies, ACTION United, The Center For Popular Democracy, and Integrity In Education.

The three groups are part of the umbrella group, Philly Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS), which continued to seek greater oversight of privately managed charter schools that are publicly funded like their district-run counterparts. The group’s members delivered copies of its findings and recommendations this week to the state Attorney General’s Office and the Philadelphia School Reform Commission (SRC), which oversees the city’s public school system.

ACTION United, which has criticized the school district for policies and practices it deems unfair, reported no significant action on the 20-page report released in September. The renewed push for increased regulations on charter schools comes as the state-controlled commission ended its seven-year ban on considering new charter school applications in an effort to control operating costs.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers union wants the moratorium reinstated until measures are taken to increase charter school regulation and improve transparency. The state Legislature required the school district to start considering new charter school applications as a condition to receive a sales tax on cigarette packs sold in Philadelphia.

Local activists and educators called for the state Attorney General’s Office to investigate whether all charter schools have appropriate levels of internal controls and policies to prevent fraud. Oversight agencies have inadequate resources to maintain staff needed to assess fraud and conduct targeted audits.

The nonprofit organization asked 62 charter schools to provide details about fraud prevention practices, but about half of the respondents replied and only four school districts had adequate fraud prevention practices on the books.

Earlier this week, the group called for providing additional funding to the SRC for improving oversight of fraud risk management practices in all publicly funded schools. They made calls for more leadership from the governor’s office, and for granting authority to city or county controllers to assess fraud risk and conduct audits of school district’s finances.

There are only two auditors for the school district, with more than 200 public schools. And implementation of charter school fraud risk management programs has been lacking in publicly funded schools and fraudulent activities aren’t typically exposed by the type of audits that are conducted, according to PCAPS.

“General auditing techniques alone don’t uncover fraud,” according to the report.