December 28, 2023

Kristen Taketa: One of California’s largest charter school networks lacked years of records to justify tens of millions in spending, state audit finds

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Reporting for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Kristen Taketa explains how one home charter network bilked California taxpayers. California allows for an arrangement in which homeschoolers can become part of a “home charter” system with little or no oversight.

Inspire, a home school charter network that once served tens of thousands of students statewide, for years lacked records to justify its claims for state funding and tens of millions of dollars in transactions among its schools and related organizations, a new state audit found.

The Inspire network, which included two schools authorized out of San Diego County, also overreported student attendance and, as a result, collected about $609,000 more in public money than it was supposed to, according to the audit, which scrutinized the network’s activities from 2017 to 2020.

The audit’s findings suggest that Inspire’s lapses resulted in part from some of the same financial practices and weaknesses in oversight that have allowed other California charter school operators to get more taxpayer money than they were entitled to — including the A3 charter school leaders who were indicted four years ago after fraudulently obtaining $400 million from the state.

At the heart of many of Inspire’s issues, according to the audit and past reporting by The San Diego Union-Tribune, was a charter management organization that operated outside of the public eye and wielded control over virtually all aspects of the schools’ operations and finances. That control, auditors found, extended to the point that it was moving money between the schools and some outside entities — and even moving students and staff between schools — without the individual schools’ knowledge or approval.

Auditors said the Inspire charter management organization either lost or destroyed many required records and supporting documentation needed to justify its financial transactions and how it claimed student attendance, which is the basis for how the state allocates funding to schools. Inspire kept records in such poor condition that it could not reconcile many transactions, to the point it could be considered negligence, auditors added.

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