Virtual charter academies in California must refund nearly $2 million to state

Alison Yin for EdSource TodayAlison Yin for EdSource TodayAs a result of a just released state audit, the California Department of Education says a network of virtual charter schools must refund nearly $2 million in improperly used state funds that were intended for implementation of the Common Core standards in English and math.
In addition, the department will require the schools to conduct a new audit of its average daily attendance records and a number of other actions.
“The California Department of Education is committed to ensuring public schools follow the laws and regulations that safeguard taxpayer funds,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “It’s critical that our students receive the resources they need to succeed.”
The nonprofit virtual charter network runs 11 schools known as California Virtual Academies, and three known as Insight Schools.  Together they are referred by the acronym CAVA.  The  schools  offer alternatives to “brick and mortar” schools, and allow students to get their assignments, complete the work, and to communicate with teachers online.  In some cases, they might communicate via telephone.
The auditors found that attendance records did not support the reimbursement the charter network received for  12 to 14 percent of the students who records were sampled during the audit (40 out of 289 students over a two year period).
The issue is far from settled, however.  In a statement,  school administrators  said that “CAVA schools properly spent all common core funds by June 30, 2015,” and that they will file an administrative appeal against the state’s demand that they should reimburse the funds.  They cited an independent auditor whom they said came from a state approved list and found that “the California Virtual Academies have fairly presented, in all material respects, the Common Core expenditures in the appropriate period.”
The state audit was conducted by auditors in the Office of the Controller, under the direction of State Controller Betty Yee, who concluded the following:
Our audit found that CAVA did not fully comply with the schools’ contractual agreements with authorizing entities, lacked sufficient documentation to support that pupil attendance was accurately reported to the CDE, lacked sufficient documentation to support satisfactory progress of students between 19 to 22 years old, and may have miscalculated its pupil-teacher ratio.In many instances, students enrolling in one of CAVA’s virtual academies had done poorly or even failed in regular school settings before enrolling there.  A 2016 report by the Bay Area News Group found that less than half of CAVA’s high school students earned their diplomas, and very few met the requirements to enter the California State University or the University of California.
On the most recent administration of the Smarter Balanced tests, at most CAVA schools  the percentage of students who met or exceeded the standards were well below the state average.  In some cases they were higher.
To review CAVA and other test results go to EdSource’s Smarter Balanced data base here
This story was updated at 8 a.m. on Oct. 10 to include information received from CAVA officials. 
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