Albany--The Alliance for Quality Education reacted to a report posted in The New York Times electronic edition by calling on the state legislature to put the brakes on a plan to dramatically expand the number of charter schools in the state. Charter schools are publicly funded and privately operated schools that are not subject to the types of fiscal or academic accountability that apply to regular public schools. A bill recently passed by the State Senate would more than double the number of charter schools from 200 to 460, at a cost to taxpayers of $2 billion annually according to The Times. The Times uncovered cases of charter school operators paying exorbitant rents, paying higher than market interest rates, and questionable expenditures on plane tickets, meals, alcohol, staff trips to the Caribbean, as well as questions of potential conflict of interests by charter school board members and staff who may have a substantial financial interest at stake.
AQE, a broad-based coalition of organizations representing parents, local communities and educators, is neither pro nor anti charter school, but has called for greater accountability and transparency. Among the measures supported by AQE are a ban on for-profit operators in these publicly-funded schools, audits by the state comptroller, requirements that privately-run charter schools serve the same proportion of high-need students as public schools, and a limitation on the number of charter schools that can be located within any single school district. A pro-charter school lobby group, Education Reform Now-which represents hedge fund managers, has launched a multi-million campaign to try and stop these reforms from being enacted. That, combined with reports that financial backers of the expansion of charter schools are prepared to spend millions of dollars on election campaigns this year, has impacted the effort to get these reforms enacted.
"The New York Times report is shocking," said Billy Easton, Executive Director of AQE, "I do not see how any legislator can in good conscience vote to continue giving for-profit charter school operators a free hand to do as they please with our public dollars after these revelations of corruption and financial irregularities have emerged. For-profit operators should not be getting rich off of our public school funding. Charter operators do not want the state comptroller auditing how they spend our tax dollars-now we know some of the things they are trying to hide from the public."
"It is very troubling to think that while the state legislature is considering cutting $1.4 billion from our public schools, they would consider voting for a plan to increase the taxpayers' payments to these privately run schools by $2 billion annually," said Easton, "especially when today's report reveals that the state has inadequate systems for oversight and accountability."