Auditor: Louisiana state health agency management issues cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars _lowres

Daryl Purpera

An audit issued Monday criticized how the state Department of Education monitors charter schools.

The report was issued by Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

Auditors found that the department’s monitoring process weighted critical and noncritical violations equally.

"Equally weighting all violations does not reflect the severity of critical violations and may result in schools with critical violations receiving the same score as schools with non-critical violations," the report said.

Violations include cases where schools inappropriately denied students enrollment by telling parents there was a lack of seating; suspension of a student with disabilities for 24 days, 14 days more than is permissible, and manipulation of minutes required for special education services.

In its response, education officials largely agreed with the criticism but disputed other parts of the review.

The report said the agency failed to ensure the required number of at-risk students were enrolled in charter schools.

The result is that, for two types of charters, 19 percent of schools failed to have the necessary number of at-risk students for the 2015-16 school year. 

The report said state law and charter contracts require that a certain number of charter school students be classified as at-risk.

At-risk students include those who qualify for free and reduced lunches, those with exceptionalities and students who are the mother or father of a child.

Education officials said they disagreed with the auditor's premise that state law requires preference for at-risk students.

Charter schools are public schools run by non-governmental boards.

Louisiana has 145 charters used by about 80,000 students.

About 53,000 students attend the 98 charter schools covered in Purpera's review, and the schools are authorized by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The audit said the department's oversight is especially important because charter school operators enjoy more autonomy than traditional public schools in exchange for performance accountability.

In other areas, Purpera's report said the department did not specify how to address violations in charter schools.

The agency's procedures failed to spell out that schools should receive a "notice of concern" letter when problems were found and a "return to good standing" when faults were corrected.

The department also needs to better inform parents how to make complaints, according to the audit.

Of 494 complaints aimed at schools, only 11 percent came from parents.

The report said that suggests parents do not know where to file a complaint.

Department officials disputed Purpera's recommendation that state officials make unannounced visits to charter schools.

They said the state already does so but believe the visits have limited value.

"Most of the major problems uncovered at schools have actually been revealed during announced visits, routine monitoring activities and off-site data reviews," according to the department's written response to the audit.

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