Four Delaware charter schools will have to return funds based on 28 students they received funding for from the state based on not meeting specific criteria for those students. Yesterday, Delaware State Auditor Tom Wagner released the final report of a statewide audit on the September 30th Enrollment Counts which determines how many units a school gets for salaries, energy costs and equalization funds. The report does an excellent job of describing how funding in Delaware education actually works without needing an advanced accounting degree to understand. The report showed the biggest problem is inconsistency with the districts and charters on how to submit the data as well as no specific requirements for the school or district unit count coördinator to even attend the training offered by the Delaware Department of Education.
Four charter schools were specifically called out for not having the proper documentation for early Kindergarten entrance students. This is for students who are considered gifted and talented and are not the age of 5 by August 31st, as required by state law. The Auditor of Accounts found 28 students at these four charters should not have been counted in the unit count and the schools should return the funding they received for those students. The charter schools were EastSide (11 students), Family Foundations Academy (12 students), Kuumba Academy (3 students), and Delaware College Prep (2 students). Given the fact that EastSide and FFA are run by the same executive director, Dr. Lamont Browne, and that over 82% of these unlawful unit count claims are occurring at the schools he runs is very troubling. As well, the Board President is the same at both schools: Charles McDowell. FFA already had an audit report released late last year based on the prior school leaders massive fraud and theft of school funds. Kuumba Academy was spotlighted with irregularities based on an inspection report released last year. Red flags came up over unauthorized compensation for the Head of School and a custodian. Delaware College Prep did not have their charter renewed by their authorizer, Red Clay Consolidated School District, and will close at the end of this school year. They were also mentioned in the same audit inspection as Kuumba with unauthorized reimbursements to their Board President.
One thing the report showed, which I was not aware of, was the role special education service providers play in the unit counts. According to the below report, providers such as speech-language pathologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, school psychologists and other providers are based on the following:
1 unit per 57 Regular Education students in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, Basic Special Education students 4th-12th grade, and Regular Education students 4th-12th grade
1 unit per 5.5 Intensive Special Education students
1 unit per 3 Complex Special Education students
If there is one thing I have heard in Delaware it is how schools are unable to provide these services consistently, especially for basic special education students. This is an even bigger problem with having the unit formula be the same for Kindergarten to 3rd grade basic and regular students. But all students in basic special education from Kindergarten to 12th grade are not given any advantage over regular students in receiving these services. This is a major problem and I would urge any legislator to remedy this problem immediately!
The report also highlighted the role Innovative Schools plays in enrollment counts. The Auditor of Accounts felt Innovative Schools should not be the agency conducting the enrollment counts but the school unit count coördinator. They advised either way the accountability falls on the school leader. Several charters and a scattering of traditional public schools were mentioned in the report in various sections covering details such as training participation for the unit-count system and having a clear policy manual on the process. The full report is below.