Theresa B. Lee Academy

AUSTIN - State education officials have threatened to cut off funding for a troubled Fort Worth charter school unless its owner submits a detailed financial audit within 30 days.

The letter warning of the possible loss of state funding is the latest problem for Theresa B. Lee Academy of Fort Worth, a charter school already under state oversight because of poor performance ratings and cheating on the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

The latest warning also applies to a sister campus in Houston, Jesse Jackson Academy. Funding will be suspended if the independent audit for both schools is not delivered to the Texas Education Agency this month by the owner and superintendent of the two schools, Jesse W. Jackson of Houston…

"We have to be able to ensure that state funds are being spent appropriately, and we have given them a very reasonable amount of time to produce this audit," said Debbie Ratcliffe of the TEA. She said the audit was originally due on Jan. 28 and that three notices have been sent.

Lee Academy, located in a gray storefront building in East Fort Worth, has had a state conservator overseeing its operations since the fall of 2007 after the school was cited for cheating on the TAKS and hit with an "academically unacceptable" rating from the state…

A financial report earlier this year found that the charter school owes the state more than $500,000 for overstating its student enrollment last year and for collecting state money for special education services that students never received…

Some teachers at the school were not paid at the end of the last school year in June and were told to file for unemployment benefits, she said. Even a check the school sent to Dr. Francois as payment for her services bounced.
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THERESA B. LEE ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL ORDERED CLOSED; November 12, 2008; Fort Worth Star Telegram (TX) 
FORT WORTH — State officials ordered Theresa B. Lee Academy charter school to close by tomorrow, state officials said. The charter school, located on East Lancaster Avenue, failed to submit required financial audits and been monitored by the state for cheating on state tests in 2005.

Earlier this month, the school lost state funding for failure to submit financial audits, which public schools are required to do annually.

Officials said representatives from the Region XI Education Service Center, which serves and helps monitor Tarrant County area schools, arrived at the school Nov. 7 to find that the school was not in session.

“That was unacceptable to the commissioner,” TEA spokeswoman DeEtta Culbertson said.

Jesse Jackson, who also oversees Lee’s parent company Youth for Education and Success, based in Houston, could not be reached for comment. He has not returned media calls in recent months. Lee academy was receiving funding for about 112 students.

The state asked YES officials to submit a 2005-06 by Sept. 29 and failed to do so. The state has revoked or removed 41 charters since allowing such schools in 1995.
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An inexperienced science teacher with no textbooks or lab equipment. Special education students who get no special attention. Bills paid late or not at all.

Theresa B. Lee Academy, a Fort Worth charter school discovered cheating on 2005 TAKS tests, is failing in virtually every regard, according to state records.

Yet it remains open…

"This school is woefully inadequate to provide even a marginal education," the conservator, Carol Francois, concluded in one report. "The staff, for the most part, is poorly qualified, poorly trained, and poorly managed."

Jesse W. Jackson, the school's superintendent and owner, did not respond to requests for comment this week.

What does it take to shut down a school like this? Some critics say TEA needs tougher state laws to make it easier to sever the contract between a failing charter school and the state.

Some state efforts to shut down charters languish in court for years.

"I think it's very obvious that the bad charters need to be closed down and the good charters need to be emulated, and it's not as easy as it sounds," said state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano…

The audit, released last month, found that Lee didn't keep required attendance records for most of the 2006-07 school year and collected state money for special education services that students never received. The state says Lee must repay $516,388…

…monthly reports to TEA describe a school where teachers drilled students in how to take tests, but spent little time teaching the subject matter.

One report mentions three learning-disabled students who said they didn't receive extra academic help the law allows for them. They didn't even know they're supposed to get it.

Another report documents an untrained but eager science teacher begging for biology textbooks and lab equipment only to have her bosses tell her to find and use whatever her predecessor left behind.

Teachers haven't been paid for May, Dr. Francois said. Special education consultants said their invoices were paid late, if at all. A $3,446 check to Dr. Francois bounced…

In 2006, Dr. Jackson received $144,000 as superintendent of Lee and Jackson academies. Arthurlene Jackson, his wife and assistant superintendent, received $125,000, according to IRS records…

•A state investigation found that educators helped students cheat on 2005 TAKS tests.
•An audit of the 2006-07 school year found that Lee failed to keep required attendance records and collected state money for special education and other services students never received. Lee must repay the state $516,388.
•In 2006-07, Lee reported an average attendance of 252 students. In 2007-08, with a state conservator in charge, attendance dropped to 115 students. Because schools receive state dollars based largely on attendance, Lee's annual state funding dropped from about $1.6 million to about $750,000.
•Students taking different electives, from social studies to physical education, were put in the same class with the same teacher.
•Classroom activities often consisted mostly of rote drills, reading aloud and filling out worksheets.
•A special education teacher did not always show up when she was supposed to.
•Only four students in the entire school passed the math TAKS and only three passed the science TAKS, based on preliminary 2008 scores.
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State officials announced punishments for three schools Tuesday, including a Fort Worth charter school that cheated on TAKS tests and may have inflated attendance figures.

At Theresa B. Lee Academy in Fort Worth, the Texas Education Agency will assign an official to oversee student testing and to help with a state audit of the school's attendance records, among other duties. Those steps allow the school to stay open this year…

 [Robert Scott, the TEA's acting commissioner] said the punishment Theresa B. Lee received is about as severe as possible. The state reported in June that investigators had found that school officials doctored student answer sheets, gave students answers and claimed to have lost key records in a "flood" that never happened.

Investigators had wanted to interview students who were listed on the attendance rolls but, according to Lee officials, were absent or had withdrawn from school.

Those aren't Lee's only troubles. The school has also received the state's lowest academic rating of "unacceptable" the last two years. If that pattern continues, Mr. Scott said, he'll consider closing the school next year…

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