Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Parents, leaders demand Gov. Jerry Brown end fraud, sign transparency bill - EastBayTimes

Charter school charge: Parents, leaders demand Gov. Jerry Brown end fraud, sign transparency bill - EastBayTimes.com:

Parents, leaders demand Gov. Jerry Brown end fraud, sign transparency bill

SACRAMENTO -- An alliance of community groups and state leaders has banded together to urge Gov. Jerry Brown to sign legislation aimed at charter school accountability and transparency by ensuring public access to the same financial records, governance meetings and conflict of interest protections as required at traditional public schools.
Assembly Bill 709, sponsored by Assemblymember Mike Gipson, D-Carson, requires all charter schools to disclose how they spend taxpayer money, including budgets and contracts. It also prohibits charters' board members and their families from profiting from their schools and mandates that they comply with California's open meetings, open records and conflict of interest laws.

File photo: California Gov. Jerry Brown gestures during a community event in Sacramento on May 18, 2016.
File photo: California Gov. Jerry Brown gestures during a community event in Sacramento on May 18, 2016. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)
State regulators have found more than $81 million in fraudulent and wasteful spending at charter schools in California, said the bill's advocates at a Thursday news conference. The advocates said that recent news stories and academic studies about waste, fraud, abuse and discriminatory practices by privately run charter schools that receive public taxpayer money, underscore the need for increased accountability.

"Frequently, charter schools are not required to play by the same rules," Gipson said. "There are no clear requirements that their financial and administrative records are open to the public and there are not clear requirements that bar anyone doing business with them from having conflicts of interest.
"Although charter schools are privately governed, they cannot be excused from accountability," he said, adding that many charters that receive public funding do not realize they should be complying with these laws already, so the legislation would help codify and clarify the laws.
Last month, the Senate approved the bill 21-13 and the Assembly passed it 46-31.
Aimee Roylance, a parent who withdrew her children from the Livermore Valley Charter School, spoke about the hurdles she and other parents encountered in trying to get basic questions answered about how the school was using taxpayer money. The school's charter operator, Tri-Valley Learning Corp., is under investigation by the Alameda County District Attorney's Office for financial fraud, illegally charging foreign students tuition, and child cruelty and endangerment.

"Our board, after months of going to meetings, wouldn't answer a simple question about where the money is going and address our questions as stakeholders," she said. "Many students have left, and that board has torn apart our community. There was a complete lack of communication and they weren't being transparent about whether they were paying teachers appropriately and how they were using public funding."
State Treasurer John Chiang said the bill was an important first step in guaranteeing a level of transparency in the state's charter schools. Also legislation will be introduced next year that would hold charter school operators, and not just schools themselves, accountable.
"We all agree much more work needs to be done," he said.
In addition, a recent ACLU report, "Unequal Access," found that more than 20 percent of California's charter schools deny access to students with disabilities, English learners, or students who have lower grades and test scores, said Victor Leung, a staff attorney for the ACLU. As a result of the findings, the NAACP has called for a ban on privately managed charters.
A recent poll by In the Public Interest, a research and policy group, found that Californians overwhelmingly favor proposals to reform charter schools' transparency, said Bob Lawson, the group's director of special projects. It found 80 percent of respondents want to ensure that neighborhood public schools are not adversely affected by the opening of charter schools, he said.
For more information about AB 709, go to http://bit.ly/2ccO21g. For more on the ACLU report, go to https://www.aclusocal.org/unequal-access/. Or for the In the Public Interest study, go to http://bit.ly/2c8daaU.

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