Audit: Additional Funding for Charter Systems Not Formally Tracked by State

Dec 2, 2013

A new state audit says Georgia’s Department of Education does not track all of the supplemental funding given to charter school systems. In fiscal year 2013, Georgia’s 16 charter systems received a total of nearly $11 million dollars in supplemental state funding. The funding is additional state money charter systems receive per student.

The state audit was conducted by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts at the request of a Georgia House Appropriations Committee.

Credit State of Georgia

It says the Georgia Department of Education has informally tracked the funding by surveying charter systems, by revising charter applications and through questions asked in annual reports.

But the audit says the information gathered is generally not detailed, supported with documentation or validated by the department.

However, the audit says state law does not require the tracking of the funding or expenditure controls.

Louis Erste is Associate Superintendent for Policy and Charters at the Georgia Department of Education.

“All the money is accounted for very precisely. Every single one of the charter systems has an annual report and an annual audit. The issue is does every school system break it out specifically, and this is less than two percent of their funding.”

The audit also says there is insufficient information to determine whether the funding has resulted in improved student achievement or better governance.

But Louis Erste says, “Even if someone kept a detailed list, which they’re not required to do. You still couldn’t tie it to any academic outcome, because it’s too tiny an amount.”

However, Erste says the department has provided a program code, so school systems that want to explicitly keep track of supplemental funding can do so.

That’s what the Marietta City School System does according to Superintendent Dr. Emily Lembeck.

“We absolutely allotted money to the schools. The schools had to submit what they were going to purchase with it, and they understood it was really to support the programs in their schools or to innovate.”

And Lembeck says a 2013 Georgia House bill, which went into effect in July,will help provide additional guidance to charter systems.

The new law says the supplemental funds should be used in accordance with recommendations of the school level governing body or to advance student achievement goals and school level training objectives.

It also requires systems to itemize initiatives being supported with the supplemental funding in their annual reports and how the funding promotes school level governance or improved student achievement.

Charter systems receive flexibility from certain state rules and regulations in exchange for greater accountability.

The audit went on to say, "While oversight has been limited up to this point the Georgia Department of Education is currently making improvements  to hold charter systems accountable.”

The department says it’s working with Georgia State University and Florida State University researchers to measure whether systems are meeting their charter goals and performance targets.

The department also says a regional educational laboratory review of four charter systems found a positive impact on academic performance once systems started implementing their charter system contracts.