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CEA Asks Legislators to Demand Accountability, Transparency for Charter Management Organizations

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg told the Legislature’s Education Committee that charter management organizations must be subject to transparency and accountability.

CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg testified before the Education Committee today in favor of a bill that expands accountability and transparency for charter management organizations (CMOs) that run some of Connecticut’s publicly funded schools.

“Every dollar for public education is precious, and we need this legislation to ensure that every dollar spent by charter management organizations is spent on supporting students in those classrooms,” Waxenberg said.

Among other things, HB 7206: An Act Concerning Charter Management Organizations clarifies financial reporting requirements for CMOs, mandating that they post online their operating budget; the schedule, location, agenda and minutes of their meetings; how much funding is spent marketing their schools; any money obtained through financing, tax credits, or other means used for operating school buildings; and all sources of revenue, including the names and affiliations of individuals who make donations to the CMO and the amounts of those donations.

“We adamantly support requiring disclosure of who is funding the schools,” Waxenberg said. “Shouldn’t the public have the right to know who is funding public education?” He also proposed strengthening language in the bill to require that charter school governing boards be bound by the same standards for transparency and accountability as local boards of education. Currently, they are not.

“We request that that be fixed,” Waxenberg said.

“As you can see, there’s a significant amount of money being spent,” he added, pointing to a 2016 study conducted by Rodriguez Data Solutions. “We’re looking for details on that spending.”

Thanking Waxenberg for his testimony, Education Committee member Rep. Gail Lavielle said the committee appreciated the supporting documents he provided, calling them thorough and helpful to the group.

Rodriguez Data Solutions’ report, Corporate-Style Charter Schools in Connecticut, uncovered disturbing examples of financial malfeasance at some Connecticut charter schools operated by CMOs—including huge management fee increases for CMOs.

“We have to make sure that the over $100 million being afforded to them by the state—and the millions more they’re getting in fees—is accounted for,” said Waxenberg, noting that CMO reporting is fraught with ambiguity, and spending categories are vague. “’Management and ancillary fees’ is too broad, especially when you’re in the millions of dollars and some CMOs have schools in other states.” Without specificity, he said, it’s impossible to follow the money.

Committee Co-Chair Rep. Andrew Fleischmann agreed that there is “a pretty big differential between the type of information that can be obtained from a public school district’s central office versus a charter management organization.” Responding to earlier testimony by State Department of Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell, who opposed HB 7206, Fleischmann asked, “Why would we not want the public to have comparable information about how their expenditures break down?”

Though Wentzell said many charter schools are small and lack the back-office support needed to easily comply with the bill, Fleischmann pointed out that that back-office work is “exactly what CMOs are supposed to do,” adding that they are large enough to do it. “From payroll to supplies, all of those back-office expenses you can track with a central office are difficult to track with a CMO.”

“It’s just a good practice for the state of Connecticut to adhere to,” said Waxenberg. “It’s not going to force anybody to leave. It’s just going to answer the question, ‘What are you spending your money on?’ The CMO fee structure is very vague. We have to mitigate that vagueness.”

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