California charter schools (problems w/oversight)

"Chief of state’s charter school division stepping down.” EdSource (CA), 10/14/2011 (bolding added)
The California Department of Education is looking for a replacement for the chief of its charter school division, who is leaving her post after 18 months on the job.

The departure of Beth Hunkapiller at the end of October comes at a time of continuing expansion of charter schools in California. At the same time, the state faces considerable pressures regarding oversight of state and federal dollars, especially at start-up charter schools.  It is also examining its capacity to oversee 31 charter schools authorized by the State Board of Education between 2000 and 2010...

In 1992, she signed the petition for the first school granted a charter in the state—the San Carlos Learning Center. It was also the first school founded by Aspire, which with 34 schools is now the largest charter school company in the state. Hunkapiller served a stint as the chair of the Aspire board of directors, and was chair of the State Board’s Advisory Commission on Charter Schools.  She has also been an elected member of the San Carlos School District board for the past 19 years.

But as the Little Hoover Commission noted in a report last year, there has been significant turnover in the Charter School Division staff, including in its leadership. Since 2004, it has had three directors, including Hunkapiller.

At the last State Board of Education meeting, Richard Zeiger, the Department of Education’s chief deputy superintendent, announced that tens of millions of dollars in state and federal funds have been lost by start-up charter schools that either never opened or closed within a year or two of opening.  At that meeting, Hunkapiller told the board that oversight procedures, especially of federal grants as high as $575,000 to beginning charter schools, should be stronger.

Hunkapiller said  yesterday that now-closed charter schools have defaulted on $5.5 million from the state’s Charter School Revolving Loan Fund, which gives loans of up to $250,000 mainly to start-up charter schools.  She said the defaults occurred primarily in the early years of the program, but have increased again ”in the last year or two.”

State law requires charters to pay off their loans over five years, but if a school closes before that time, collecting on the loan has turned out to be exceedingly difficult if not impossible.

Hunkapiller said the Charter School Division also had to go through a rigorous federal audit in August in which federal auditors spent weeks in Sacramento looking at what happened to federal funds granted to charter schools that have closed their doors.

The report is due in January...

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