Senator Dave Sokola pulled a fast one on State Rep. Kim Williams in his latest political trickery because of his uncontrolled bias for Delaware charter schools.
Last year, State Rep. Kim Williams’ House Bill 186 was approved by the Delaware House of Representatives on June 30th, the last day of legislative session. Senator David Sokola refused to suspend the rules and said this bill needed to be heard in the Senate Education Committee. Fair enough. It was heard in committee this week, and it was released yesterday. Fair enough. What he did behind the scenes is what defines him.
House Bill 186 deals with charter school audits. Rep. Williams felt the charter school fraud and embezzlement was a bit too much for Delaware taxpayers and she brought the bill forward to allow the State Auditor’s office to monitor charters more closely. This is something Kathleen Davies from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office was in full support of. The main party who was not in support of the bill was the Delaware Charter Schools Network. They vehemently opposed the bill stating it would cost charter schools extra money. On their website, they set up a “letter to the legislators” system where parents just add their information and a letter is automatically sent to the legislators.
At present, all traditional school districts audits go through the State Auditor’s office. Charters use their own hand-picked auditors. This bill would add an extra layer of protection. As well, ever since the very first charter school closed in Delaware, funds seem to disappear resulting in millions of dollars vanishing. Rep. Kim Williams’ House Bill 186 would put charters on the same equal playing field as traditional school districts and is not an attempt to treat charters any different. Why would we not want to ensure our taxpaying funds are being used with fidelity and honesty?
Having sent my son to a charter school back in the day, I know how this works when legislation comes up that may affect a charter school. Parents get emails from the school leader basically saying “Our poor charter school is under attack, we need your support.” It usually ties to funding and money.
On June 30th, the bill passed the House with all Democrats except State Reps. Pete Schwartzkopf and Earl Jaques and all the Republicans voted no.
This week, Sokola, along with co-sponsor Jaques and several Senate Republicans filed Senate Bill 171.
Are charters required to have their audits done the same way as Sokola’s Senate Bill 171 states? Not at all. Title 29 of the Delaware State Code, dealing with the Auditor of Accounts, specifically states:
(f) The Auditor of Accounts shall conduct postaudits of local school district tax funds budget and expenditures annually. The results of the audit shall be submitted to the local board, the State Board of Education, the office of Controller General and the local libraries within said school district. Expenses incurred for such postaudits herein authorized shall be borne by the local school districts.
This says absolutely nothing about charter schools whatsoever. With respect to charter schools, Title 14 does touch on this, but the wording is very vague:
The charter school shall contract to have an audit of the business and financial transactions, records, and accounts after July 1 for the prior fiscal year. The results of the audit shall be shared with the Department of Education by October 1.
What Sokola’s bill does completely ignores the authority given to the State Auditor of Accounts in Title 29. And the charter audit part is not even included in chapter 29 whatsoever. Title 14 doesn’t even define what the scope of the charter school’s audit should look like, and even with Sokola’s bill this is not defined either. But Title 29, the section that once again authorizes the Auditor of Accounts of their duties and responsibilities, bolded for emphasis, states:
(a) The audits shall be sufficiently comprehensive to provide, but not limited to, assurance that reasonable efforts have been made to collect all moneys due the State, that all moneys collected or received by any employee or official have been deposited to the credit of the State and that all expenditures have been legal and proper and made only for the purposes contemplated in the funding acts or other pertinent regulations.
This is a direct attempt to sabotage Rep. Williams’ bill in my opinion. Sokola’s bill does absolutely nothing. It is a piece of paper designed to actually protect charter schools from the financial destruction some of them have inflicted on Delaware. After the State Auditor’s office released reports last year on Family Foundations Academy and Academy of Dover showing well over $300,000 of taxpayer money being absconded by school leaders, along with other reports showing a couple of charters doing very suspect things with school funds, one would think our elected officials would want to make sure charters are held under a bigger microscope. In the case of Family Foundations Academy, telling the public they aren’t sure what may have happened to $2.5 million dollars along with another $141,000 in funds that may or may not have been personal purchases shows a clear need for more oversight into charter finances. But apparently not with the Chairs of our Education Committees, Sokola and Jaques.
How does something like this happen when charter schools are supposed to have greater accountability because of their unique structure with the public school environment? It is political maneuvering. Senator Sokola is in the 8th District, in Newark. Since 1990, Sokola has been a State Senator. I wrote in great detail about Sokola’s history of education destruction last year. The 8th District is a very unique district. In this district is Newark Charter School. Senator Sokola was one of the founding board members of the school. Newark Charter School has a 5 mile radius for its applicants, which actually extends past the Maryland line. So it is not a true 5 mile radius, but ensures all its students come from a very specific geographic area. The 8th district. This school is considered to be one of the best schools in the state based on standardized test scores, academics, and school climate. There is usually an extensive waiting list. Because of this, Sokola is able to hold onto his Senate seat because of his steadfast loyalty to charter schools. He is also the chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Interestingly enough, State Rep. Kim Williams gave insight into this in a comment on Delaware Liberal last night:
House Bill 186 will require charter schools to have their audits done through the Auditor of Accounts like all other public school districts in the state. Currently, only public school districts are audited through the Auditor of Accounts. Sen. Sokola explained to us during the debate of House Bill 186 that his bill, Senate Bill 171, was drafted with the help of the Delaware Charter Schools Network, who represent charter schools and the leaders who have been stealing from Delaware taxpayers. Senate Bill 171 does not require the charter schools to have their audits done through the Auditor of Accounts office. The charter schools will be able to select who they want once again. Senate Bill 171 does nothing except protect the charter schools and not the taxpayers. I for the life of me cannot understand why these people do not care about protecting the taxpayers’ money; they are more interested in protecting the charter schools.
This is Delaware. Those in power position themselves in the key positions so they can be re-elected over and over and over again. Sokola is also the chair of the Senate Bond Committee so he can curry favor with the organizations that receive state funding through bonds and grants. Sokola has not filed for the 2016 election, but his seat is up for grabs. No opposing candidate has filed either, so there is still time.
I urge every single Delaware citizen to contact every member of the Delaware Senate to vote yes for House Bill 186. Sokola’s anti-Williams bill will most likely be on the Senate Education Committee agenda for next week. His bill will be fast-tracked for passage while Williams bill will either be voted down or sit in limbo.
I just wrote the Delaware Senators an email for my full support for House Bill 186, and I would ask anyone reading this to do the same:
Good morning Delaware Senators!
I wanted to ask for you support in voting yes for House Bill 186, State Rep. Kim Williams charter school audit bill which passed with overwhelming support in the Delaware House on June 30th, and was released from the Senate Education Committee yesterday. As a Delaware taxpaying citizen, I firmly believe our Delaware charter schools need rigorous examination with their finances. We have seen far too many charters abscond with public funds for personal use in the past few years for their own personal use.
I firmly believe, after carefully reviewing House Bill 186, that this bill would give the extra protections Delaware taxpayers need to make sure our dollars are being protected from those who would steal money from us. If we are going to demand accountability in our schools, that needs to start at the top in each and every building. Every single traditional school district is held to this same process, so why wouldn’t we include charters in this process?
I would urge all of you to read this article by Business Insider which was written on January 6th, 2016: http://www.businessinsider.com/are-charter-schools-the-new-mortgage-crisis-2016-1 This article clearly shows the environment charter schools exist in and there are red flags all over the place. Charter school accountability and transparency was also addressed in the Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Obama last month. The ESSA demands more state responsibility in monitoring charter schools.
Here is a list of the emails for our Delaware Senators, just copy and paste!
firstname.lastname@example.org MargaretRose.Henry@state.de.us email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Ernesto.Lopez@state.de.us Patricia.Blevins@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Nicole.Poore@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Dave.Lawson@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Brian.Pettyjohn@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com David.Sokola@state.de.us Bryan.Townsend@state.de.us firstname.lastname@example.org