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Pa. Auditor General Pushes for Tougher Charter School Oversight

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By Arianna Prothero

Pennsylvania's auditor general is calling for more stringent oversight of the state's charter schools, including the creation of an independent statewide board to oversee the publicly-funded, independent schools.

In a new report, Pennsylvania's auditor general, Eugene DePasquale, recommends tougher oversight of charters in what he said would address persistent problems he ran across while auditing charter schools. "We saw the same issues over and over again," said DePasquale. "We would pass it on to the [state] education department and nothing would get done about it." He pointed specifically to charters that have received improper lease reimbursements.

An oversight board, says DePasquale, would function as both "an enforcer and a repository for what is and isn't working."

For example, DePasquale said he's received complaints that some charter schools report inflated numbers of special education students.

The idea has tentative support from the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. The organization's executive director, Robert Fayfich, said an independent oversight board could help improve consistency and quality among charter school authorizers.

"Unless we have strong authorizers, we will never have a strong charter sector," Fayfich said. "Now whether that recommendation is the right way to get at that, that's what we need to discuss."

If Pennsylvania moves ahead with this idea, it would join a slowly growing group of states, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers. The organization has been pushing the idea nationally, and President and CEO Greg Richmond said over the last 10 years, the number of state charter school oversight boards has grown from two to 15.

"We're moving beyond whether charter schools should exist or not," Richmond said. "We're having discussions about whether they are good and whether they are serving all kids."

He said districts and state education departments are often stretched too thin when they're charged with overseeing charters on top of their regular duties.

Whether any of the report's recommendations turn into rules depends on Pennsylvania lawmakers. "It would take legislative action from here," DePasquale said. "There are bills out there, and we want this to be part of the debate. Hopefully this will spur even more discussion and action on the legislative end before it adjourns at the end of summer."

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