In a long anticipated move, the DC Public Charter School Board has requested that the Council amend the School Reform Act to allow, in certain circumstances, inspection of the financial records of charter management organizations. Scott Pearson, executive director of the PCSB, explained in a hearing yesterday when his organization would have access to fiscal records:
“This would extend to all contractors providing management or educational services with a public charter school if the value of the payments to the contractor equals or exceeds 20% (versus the currently proposed 10%) of the public charter school’s annual revenue; or the value of the payments from DC public charter schools exceeds 25% of the total revenues of the contractor.”
The change is intended to avoid the controversy that erupted around the for-profit management companies associated with Options PCS and Dorothy I. Height Community Academy PCS. Both schools have since been closed due to the severe irregularities discovered regarding the use of public funds paid to firms contracted with these schools. In his remarks yesterday, Mr. Pearson appears frustrated that the PCSB had requested the books from one of these charters but was only given the most superficial information in return. He does not name the individual school but the Washington Post’s Michael Allison Chandler states that he is referring to Community Academy.
The PCSB executive director commented that millions of dollars in taxpayer money could have been saved if the charter board had been able to see how these CMOs had been allocating their revenue. But the need for this revision to SRA goes far beyond increasing accountability for charter school spending. The Options and Community Academy cases created a gigantic loss of confidence by D.C. residents in the legitimacy of a sector that now educates over 39,000 pupils or 44 percent of all public school students in the nation’s capital.
D.C.’s charter schools have been the fountainhead for desperately needed school reform that has literally turned the lives around of kids in this city, particularly those at the low end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Therefore, to strengthen this movement, and to protect its sustainability long into the future, the the Council should quickly approve this legislation.