As a new academic year gets underway, Connecticut’s charter schools face stronger scrutiny by the State Department of Education. New oversight policies will require charter schools to begin to operate more like traditional public schools.
The regulations come in the wake of an FBI probe into the troubled charter management group FUSE, the Family Urban Schools of Excellence at Jumoke Academy. The feds want to know how millions of dollars of public money was spent by the charter group, which ended up losing contracts with six charter schools in Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven, and Louisiana after revelations surfaced that the CEO’s stated academic credentials were untrue. Michael Sharpe has a criminal record, and has served two prison terms.
University of Connecticut Urban Education Professor Preston Green said the state is moving in the right direction by instituting stronger oversight of charter schools. One new regulation establishes anti-nepotism policies. "One of the problems with the Jumoke charter situation," he said, "is that several members of the charter school board were also related to Michael Sharpe, who was the CEO. If one is hiring relatives, then you're not getting people who are necessarily the best for the job."
Charter management organizations will have to become more transparent. Green said that’s tricky, because charter organizations can be both for-profit and not-for-profit, and some private entities say they should not be subject to the same kinds of reporting requirements as public schools.
"This is going to be a very contentious issue going forward," Green said. "I would predict that this is an issue that may go to court in the future, as charter management organizations assert that they are not public agencies, even though they are providing an educational service."
Green said that charter schools provide alternative educational approaches, but warned against expanding charter schools to the point of creating a dual educational system.
There are currently 18 charter schools operating in Connecticut. By the 2015-16 school year, there are expected to be 23 state charter schools.