Organic Matter: Charter schools to face more stringent controls

Some changes were approved last week in the manner in which the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools will monitor compliance of directors affecting the 472 charter schools now operating in Arizona.

Henceforth, consultants will investigate anyone wishing to open a charter school.

They will verify the applicant's employment history, financial background and credit worthiness after another consultant outside the system completes an in-depth background check.

Also, problems found in yearly independent audits of existing charter schools will be corrected promptly.

Serious violations like fraud or safety concerns could lead to penalties ranging from withholding of state money to closure of the school.

Much of the change is due to an Auditor General's Office report that states the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools lacks a systematic and coordinated approach in carrying out its oversight responsibilities.

Susan Chan, district administrator for the Kingman Academy of Learning, supports the more rigid enforcement policy.

"I had a meeting (in September) with a group of five other charter school people with Governor Napolitano to talk about this matter," Chan said.

"That meeting was right after the Auditor General's report came out.

"The governor is concerned, as we are, about bad schools.

One bad school can give the entire charter industry a bad name."

"Out of 472 charters in the state there may be 10 with huge problems that don't need to be open."

The charter school industry began because parents want more educational choices for their children as well as accountability, Chan said.

The new directives will lead to more accountability and charter school operators should not be afraid of it, she said.

Chan said her district turns in annual financial audit information like other districts to the state Department of Education.

The last major audit of the KAL was in the fall of 2000.

"We got a good review in the audit, mandated by law, at the end of our fifth year," Chan said.

"A representative from the state came and looked at our records, including student achievement and parental involvement.

"We're also continually monitored by the state Department of Education."

The state Department of Education wants stricter monitoring of charter schools, but it is bound by law on penalties it can impose for violations, Chan said.

"The charter school association has indicated it is willing to support legislation to make penalties more stringent and Gov.

Napolitano seemed in favor of working to come up with a plan that works well for all parties," Chan said.

* * *

China joined a pretty exclusive "club" last week by becoming the third nation to put a man into space and safely return him.

It's a great achievement that cost $2.18 billion dollars to send air force Lt.

Col.

Yang Liwei, 38, into space for 14 orbits lasting 21.5 hours.

But with such problems as poverty, communicable diseases and human rights (or lack of them) confronting the Chinese government, doesn't this make you wonder if all that money could have been better spent than just to join the United States and former Soviet Union in having "bragging rights" in space?

Keep in mind that the average person in China earns $700 per year.

China initiated a rocketry program in 1960.

The country began a manned space program in the 1970s during an era of political upheaval and cultural change and eventually abandoned the program and then revived it in 1992 under the code name Project 921.

Yang landed his Shenzhou-5 spacecraft just 2.4 miles from its planned landing site in Inner Mongolia.

Within hours, Chinese officials said space exploration would continue with another mission, possibly within two years and that a space station would eventually be put in orbit.

Waiting two years for the next manned mission seems like a long time to me.

Perhaps the Chinese leadership needs time to come up with more funds to continue the program.

If I was Chinese and permitted to speak freely without fear of repercussion there are several questions I would want answered at this point.

How much of the money going into our space program could be better used to improve my quality of life?

How will exploring space put food on the table for a hungry family or protect them from diseases?

Will the government do anything in my lifetime to make things better for the common man?

Terry Organ is the Miner's education, health and weather reporter.