Sen. Ruckleshaus has introduced SB 390 which would provide some additional degree of oversight and accountability for charter schools. In the wake of recent events, there certainly seems to be some cause for this sort of initiative. Whether it’s sufficient, I couldn’t say. The bill requires two members of the charter’s board to live within the boundaries of the school district in which the charter is located and requires at least 50% of its meetings to take place within those boundaries. The bill requires an annual audit of all public and private funds by the school and the charter school organizer (notwithstanding the rule that says an entity receiving less than 50% or less than $200k in public money will only be audited with respect to matters relevant to the public money received). A charter school organizer would be considered a public agency for purposes of the Access to Public Records Act.
Additionally, the charter school and charter school organizer would be required to post online a copy of the audit, the school’s most recent enrollment count, and a list of the salaries of each individual employed by the organizer. It also creates an enforcement mechanism whereby the Department of Education can issue findings with respect to waste, fraud, abuse, or misrepresentations made by the school or its organizer along with recommendations to the State Board of Education to penalize the charter or revoke its authorization. The bill also provides for creation of a study committee to study the need for additional charters and potentially a moratorium.
If charters are going to work, they require pretty strict oversight. Massachusetts has had some success by, among other things, prohibiting for-profit Education Management Organizations, allowing only the State Board of Education to authorize schools, and imposing rigorous authorization and re-authorization standards. Indiana’s regime is much looser. This would tighten it up somewhat.