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Charter School Spending on Uncharted Course?

January 18, 2008

Albany, NY - New York's charter school classrooms are headed for the courtroom, and the issue is whether the state should have the right to audit them.

On Thursday, the state's largest teachers' union filed an amicus brief with the New York Supreme Court, supporting the State Comptroller's authority to audit New York's 96 charter schools. The New York State Charter School Association is suing to halt the audits.

Richard Iannuzzi, of New York State United Teachers, believes the Comptroller is within his rights.

"When you take the 300-plus audits that have been done, of public school districts over the last two years, if you say that charter schools are exempt, then I think we're taking a great risk with hard-earned public tax dollars."

On the other hand, Peter Murphy with the New York Charter Schools Association counters that his group has no problem with the state's fiscal audits, but feels the Comptroller is overstepping his legal authority with what he terms "redundant" procedural audits.

"The Comptroller sought non-fiscal, programmatic-related audits upon a subset of charter schools authorized by Chancellor (Joel) Klein in New York City. And that function is better suited to, and already the authority of, the city and state education departments."

Murphy says if charter schools get procedural audits, so should every school in the state. Iannuzzi explains United Teachers is not against charter schools or their academic innovations, but favors full transparency and accountability.

"Everything you do that has some impact on how you spend public dollars, has to be transparent to the controller. Charters claim to be public schools, and they are by statute; then they ought to have the same accountability standards that everyone else has."

The 16 charter schools involved in this lawsuit receive 90 percent of their annual funding from the state. In Iannuzzi's view, allocations for charter schools depletes funding for the public schools, where a higher proportion of students with special needs are enrolled. Charter schools received $218 million from local school districts for last year's academic term.

State Comptroller Thomas Di Napoli's current investigations are based on recent legislation that require audits of every New York school district, charter schools included, by the year 2010.

Robert Knight/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - NY