Audit: State doesn’t track whether charter school systems work

mstucka@macon.comNovember 29, 2013 

  • Read the state audit of charter school system funding.

A new audit said there is little evidence that state funding for charter school systems is working, in part because no one is keeping an eye on how the money is used.

Steve Smith, Bibb County’s interim school superintendent, talked briefly with school board members two months ago about the possibility of converting Bibb to a charter school system to get more money. Smith said the system wouldn’t have to change much.

“Really, you’re not giving up anything, because they require leadership teams which we’ve already required,” Smith said during September’s school board retreat.

Such charter school systems are supposed to offer increased accountability in exchange for being able to bypass certain regulations.

A new performance audit requested by state legislators found scant evidence that the state funding -- now more than $10.6 million annually -- is doing any good. The state Department of Education hasn’t tracked how the money is spent.

In fact, the report found that about half the charter school systems across Georgia were using the additional state money to make up for other cuts in state funding, called austerity cuts. Shortfalls of money have affected the program in other ways.

The report, signed by state Auditor Greg S. Griffin, said “oversight has been limited up to this point,” and that the Department of Education has not contracted for a legally required evaluation to see whether the charter school system funding brings benefits -- because the state agency itself reportedly didn’t have the money.

The audit said the Department of Education obtained a review of the program’s first four school systems, which found a positive impact on academic performance.

State education offices were closed Friday, and officials were not available for comment.

In all, 16 school systems -- including the large Fulton County system -- are now in the program.

The funding amounts have varied. School systems were supposed to have gotten $103.89 per student last year, but those figures were affected by austerity cuts and other changes. In Bibb County, that kind of money would bring about $2.5 million in annual funding.

In reality, most school systems received between $80 and $90 per student, the audit shows. Bibb County, with about 25,000 students, would be the second-largest charter school system in the state.

The only charter school systems in Middle Georgia now are the Dublin city schools, with about 2,858 students and $218,455 in funding, and the Putnam County schools, with 2,698 students and $233,136 in funding.

The Dublin city school system told auditors it used the money for teacher training and to transport students to its three academically themed elementary schools.

The Putnam County system said it is using the money to make up for lost revenue, as well as to train teachers, hire a drama teacher and launch a teacher grant program.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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