We met with the staff of Auditor General Timothy DeFoor in February to present his office with information about highly-questionable spending by Pennsylvania’s cyber charters and urged his office to conduct audits of cyber charter schools. We contacted his office again in May with additional information.
In a letter dated June 1, the office of Auditor General Timothy DeFoor informed Education Voters that due to limited staff resources, the office would not be opening an audit into Commonwealth Charter Academy or any other cyber charter school.
This is unacceptable.
Cyber charter schools received more than $1 billion in tax-funded tuition payments from Pennsylvanians in 2020-2021, yet most cyber charter schools have never been audited or were last audited many years ago.
With no state oversight, the opportunities for waste, fraud, and abuse are staggering.
- Reporting in the Times-Tribune documented that one cyber charter school spent $1000 per student on advertising in 2020 while other cyber charters spent taxpayer money to purchase cell phones and Target gift cards for students and to provide families with cash payments.
- Right to Know requests revealed that cyber charters spent $35 million on advertising during the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.
- And recently we learned that Pennsylvania’s largest cyber charter is sending families $150 cash payments and providing $450 per student in reimbursements for their leisure activities and trips in addition to paying for family parties at Dave and Busters and other arcades and restaurants.
By refusing to audit cyber charter schools, the Auditor General’s office is refusing to do its duty as state fiscal watchdog. And not only has the office refused to conduct audits of the state’s 14 cyber charter schools, but the Auditor General himself announced earlier this year that he intends to shut down the Bureau of School Audits entirely.
But–and this does not smell right– the Auditor General recently opened audits into the fund balances of 14 school districts. Surely a cyber charter school spending public dollars on cash payments to students’ families and parties at Dave and Busters should be at least as high of a priority for his office as looking at the fund balances of school districts.
The state is flush with cash. Our state surplus is currently in the billions, there’s still $2 billion in remaining federal ARP dollars, and we have a never-before-seen rainy day fund of nearly $3 billion. It is improbable that the resources do not exist for the Auditor General to conduct these audits.
It is unacceptable that while school districts are starving and property tax increases are squeezing home and business owners, cyber charter schools are so awash in excess tax money that they are using property tax dollars to pay for students’ private activities and trips and giving cash payments to families. Auditor General DeFoor needs to do his job and audit the state’s cyber charter schools and let taxpayers know how their money is being spent.
And because the legislature hasn’t required audits or reined in these excessive expenditures for so long, state lawmakers need to approve the full proposed $1.75 billion increase in state funding for public schools this year to give school districts and taxpayers immediate relief. Moving forward they need to enact long-term fixes to these problems.
PS: We delivered more than 850 signatures on a letter to Auditor General DeFoor earlier this year. We are circulating this new letter for signatures so that he knows Pennsylvanians are continuing to pay attention to this issue. We will deliver it to his office before the legislature goes on summer break.