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SarahOvaska-100x147RickyLeung-100x147NC Policy Watch Reporter Sarah Ovaska and New Media Director Ricky Leung were recognized today by the Washington, DC-based Education Writers Association for their outstanding series on a troubled charter school in Winston-Salem.  The two journalists were awarded second prize in the category of “Stand-Alone Feature” written by “Education Organizations and Experts” for their series “‘A factory of excellence’?” which documented the troubling history and practices of Quality Education Academy — a public charter school that built a champion basketball team by recruiting young athletes from all over the world and engaging in a variety of high-questionable practices.

Read the series by clicking here and read the EWA recognition by clicking here.

Congratulations Sarah and Ricky!

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Since publishing our investigation about a Winston-Salem public charter’s school’s international basketball team earlier this week, Quality Education Academy has added another person to its basketball staff.

Felix Taylor is listed as a “recruiting coordinator” for the basketball team on the team’s website, which was updated after the publication of our investigation Monday.

The N.C. Policy Watch investigation,  “’A factory of excellence’?” , found that QEA recruits nationally and internationally for a basketball team subsidized by North Carolina taxpayers that have sent $13 million in education dollars to the school. The investment appears to have paid off for the team – they’ve won national championships in recent year, sent more than a dozen players on to play for Division 1 schools and are ranked the 11th best team in the state by Maxpreps.com, a CBS Sports website that tracks players for at the preparatory level.

The investigation also found that the N.C. Department of Public Instruction failed to follow up on its own concerns about the school’s unusual athletics program, and and granted the school’s chief executive officer Simon Johnson permission to open a new charter this last fall.

The state agency began looking at the charter school’s basketball program when three Serbian students wrote state officials saying they had been put demoted a grade level and were told to pay basketball coach Isaac Pitts $4,000 each. The state found the school was taking in students from all over the world, and used taxpayer dollars to educate them. But the N.C. Department of Public Instruction dropped its investigation when it slipped through the crack as the state agency dealt with a crush of charter school applications that came in 2011 after the cap on the publicly-financed, privately-run schools was lifted.

QEA’s revamped website shows that Taylor has worked for the public charter school for two years, but his name did not appear on a payroll provided to N.C. Policy Watch on Jan. 16 as part of a public records request. He joins four basketball coaches for the high school team, compared with only five high school teachers the public charter has for the less than 100 students enrolled in high school there.

Johnson, the school’s CEO, did not respond to a request for comment made Wednesday afternoon. The school has yet to respond to requests made Tuesday for Taylor’s date of hire and salary.

To read our investigation, click here.

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A Winston-Salem public charter school has agreed to pay back $52,000 after state education officials accused the school of mishandling federal lunch program funds last year.

Quality Education Academy, which opened as one of the state’s first charter schools in 1997, had initially denied any wrongdoing but agreed to a settlement Thursday to repay the funds.

The N.C. Department of Public Instruction had initially asked the school to repay more than $94,000 stemming from breakfast, lunches and snacks that the staff at Quality Education Academy served from August 2011 to February 2012 to students at the school, where approximately 80 percent of students qualified for free and reduced lunches last year.

The state, in a July 2 letter sent to QEA director Simon Johnson, said the school was not counting how many meals it actually served, and relied on outdated school rosters to estimate that meant that the school may have been over-claiming how much it should be compensated in federal funds.

N.C. Policy Watch obtained a copy of the letter through a public records request. Read More