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Troubled charter operator ASPIRA intends to open three charter schools in NC

The ASPIRA Association [1], a charter school operator at the heart of controversies in Chicago and Philadelphia, has filed three letters of intent [2] to open charter schools in Mecklenberg, Union, and Iredell counties.

The NC Department of Public Instruction received [3]171 letters of intent last week from charter school operators keen on opening up new schools in time for fall of 2015 — the highest ever received since lawmakers lifted the 100-school cap in 2011.

ASPIRA [4]is a national advocacy organization dedicated to developing the educational and leadership capacity of Hispanic youth. ASPIRA also supports the charter school movement in districts where significant numbers of Latino students are failing.

In Chicago, ASPIRA has run into allegations of financial corruption and misconduct at its charter schools. Last year, the CEO of ASPIRA Illinois, Jose Rodriguez, was fired by the charter operator’s board [5].

And in troubled Philadelphia [6], ASPIRA Inc. of Pennsylvania owes more than $3 million to four charter schools it runs, according to the Philadelphia City Paper [7]. That money, according to school district officials, is taxpayer funds intended to fulfill the purposes of the charters. The organization has also spent $17,000 to a union-busting law firm to deal with a “teacher unionization issue,” according to the City Paper.

The lack of accountability with regard to ASPIRA’s fiscal house comes at a time when Philadelphia is struggling to close a budget gap of more than $300 million, prompting the layoff of nearly 4,000 teachers, counselors and other staff.

The Philly school district’s Charter School Office, which is tasked with overseeing the financial health of charter schools, apparently provides minimal financial oversight according to a 2010 report by the city’s controller. The CSO reviews charter school financial operations just during the run up to the charter’s renewal–once every five years.

In North Carolina, public charter schools must seek renewal of their charters once every ten years, although some charter schools have received shorter terms due to academic or fiscal compliance issues.

“Each charter school must have an annual, independent audit that is submitted upstairs to the Division of School Business,” explained Joel Medley, Director of North Carolina’s Office of Charter Schools told NC Policy Watch.  “There are also monitoring site visits to verify student enrollment that are made on an as needed basis.”

North Carolina is no stranger to academic, ethical and financial problems associated with its public charter schools.

Earlier this year, the N.C. Policy Watch investigation  “’A factory of excellence’? [8]” found that the public charter school Quality Education Academy [9] recruited nationally and internationally for a basketball team that was subsidized by North Carolina taxpayers who have sent $13 million in education dollars to the school.

And just this past month, Kinston Charter Academy surrendered its charter [10] moments before the State Board of Education was set to initiate the process of closing the school thanks to its serious financial and academic problems. More than 230 students were left to find new schools in just a few days’ time. Questions remain surrounding the school’s financial debts and whether or not the state will be repaid.

Calls went unreturned to ASPIRA of North Carolina and the national headquarters of ASPIRA in DC.