McCaskill - Charter schools need better oversight

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Associated Press WriterST. LOUIS (AP) -- Half of Missouri's charter schools fail to meet teacher certification requirements, according to findings released Wednesday by state Auditor Claire McCaskill.

The audit also found that the state needs to better identify who's in charge when it comes to financial accountability and the submission of annual reports.

Half the charter schools in operation as of September did not meet the 80 percent teacher certification requirement, the audit said. It noted that public schools must have 95 percent of its educational instructors certified.

The audit was critical of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and charter school sponsors, which "have taken limited action to ensure charter schools complied with state laws and regulations, including teacher certification requirements," the auditor's office said in a news release.

Charter schools are independent, publicly funded alternative schools. In Missouri, they have been allowed in the St. Louis and the Kansas City school districts since 1998. In fiscal year 2003, 25 charter schools received about $73 million to teach almost 10,000 students, the audit said.

Charter schools in Missouri must have a sponsoring agency -- a Kansas City or St. Louis school district, a community college or public four-year college or university.

The audit said four of eight sponsors in the state weren't providing enough monitoring of the schools: Harris-Stowe State College in St. Louis, University of Missouri-Rolla, the Kansas City school district and the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Some of those institutions responded that the state has not provided money to cover those costs.

Missouri's charter schools should be watched more consistently to make sure the schools are properly following state law, the audit found. It said the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education failed to take a proactive role to make the schools comply.

Auditors also found 14 charter schools had more than $5 million in uninsured funds in banks, which put those funds at risk.

In response to the audit, several sponsoring agencies said lawmakers need to provide startup funds for charter schools, money to help sponsors oversee the schools, better define the sponsors' roles and set consequences for when charter schools do not meet standards.

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