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Audit of Charter Funding Audit Needed?

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I was recently asked by a famous Ed Blogger, Alexander Russo, what I thought of the “audit” by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), over how charter school funds are monitored.
The experience of reviewing this report was a reminder of the disconnect between a new way of doing public schooling and the old fashioned way. Here was my response:

Once again we have a federal agency with a 20th century mentality on schooling attempting to audit an industry it neither understands nor can fully appreciate. The purpose of the federal charter grant program was to spawn the creation of new schools and sustain existing ones through state and local entities to which these schools are accountable for results – outcomes — not process and paperwork. The fact that a reviewer felt uncomfortable or untrained or that the federal lens didn’t see allegiance to the kind of old, worn out paperwork requirements that still plague traditional districts should underscore the problem with compelling reviews like this that chase process over achievement. (By the way, those districts do compliance with financial and operational requirements really well but it has no bearing on real educational accountability!)

Arizona lacked a monitoring checklist to make comparisons between schools? How would a check list result in their being able to compare schools? The federal auditors should have FIRST been in touch with the authorizers who are monitoring accountability and second, or failing that, they could have been simply asking for the kinds of data and financial records that every non-profit should produce– namely, identifying the flow of money through budgets, audits, 990s, P&Ls etc…

Oh, but that might require to actually know something about finance and budgeting.

It might be a cool exercise to see what this supposed checklist that is at the heart of the OIG report actually required federal auditors to do. We may find that its WestEd that needs the audit, not the charters. (Did anyone mention that WestEd has never been a fan of charters, nor objective in their comments?)

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