Louisiana Charter Schools At Risk for Fraud

A new report from The Center For Popular Democracy highlights numerous issues with the current accountability systems in place for charter schools in Louisiana that leave them vulnerable to fraud and abuse. After the state takeover of the New Orleans Parish School District after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana has the first all-charter school district, making it especially essential that transparent and strong oversight bodies receives adequate funding and authority. As the report details, however, numerous examples of the current accountability system's failure continue to drain funds from Louisiana's schools and the students they serve. System Failure: Louisiana's Broken Charter School Law

In terms of preventing fraud, the largest problem appears to be the fact that the Education Department relies on audits that charter schools themselves provide. Another issue is that these audits use general auditing techniques, not ones specifically designed to uncover fraud. The report notes that even with this faulty accountability system, millions of dollars in fraud have already been discovered—which implies millions more could be occurring without detection. And of the fraud discovered, much of it only came to the state's attention thanks to whistleblowers or other non-audit sources.

Similar problems exist in the state's charter oversight in general. For instance, the report provides an example in one charter school, Lagniappe Academy, which had numerous violations of special education law. Although the Academy received a good rating from the department of education, teachers and parents spoke out and revealed that the school had been illegally denying services to special education students and then hiding these violations. Students went unserved for years, damaging their education and limiting their chances of success. 

Situations like these illustrate the fallibility of current systems and the necessity of taking steps to improve them. The report includes recommendations for Louisiana, including requiring every charter school to undergo a fraud risk assessment, and increasing funding for state oversight agencies to ensure they have adequate resources. 

You can find the entire report here, and further discussion of it in The Times-Picayune here. Click here to read a similar, larger report from the Center for Popular Democracy and the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools that found $200 million in charter school fraud, waste and abuse in 15 states.