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How legislation to audit charter schools stalled in the Delaware House

Delaware Public Media

Delaware State Auditor Kathy McGuiness appears to be moving forward on an audit of one charter school while declining to audit another.

The legislation requiring McGuiness to audit all charter schools stalled in the state House.

Separate bills sponsored by State Rep. Kim Williams (D-Newport) and State Sen. Jack Walsh (D-Stanton) sought to add to charter school audit requirements placed on the state auditor.

The office is required by law to audit charter schools which have been open less than five years.

Williams’ legislation would have expanded that, requiring audits if the office receives a request from the governor, Attorney General, agency heads or members of the General Assembly.

Those officials must have evidence a school is breaking state law or misusing state money.

Walsh’s bill was similar to Williams’, but excluded individual General Assembly members, in favor of committees.

Williams said they were prompted by issues at some charters.

“You know, my concern and Sen. Walsh’s concern was with the taxpayer dollars," she said. "And it shouldn’t be this hard to pass a piece of legislation protecting the taxpayer dollars.”

Williams wanted Odyssey Charter School audited in the wake of allegations it mismanaged funds, which landed the school on formal review with the Department of Education.

Design Thinking Academy, which closed at the end of the school year citing lack of enrollment, also appeared to be on the auditor’s radar. A former principal has accused staff and current and former school board members of misdeeds, including falsifying a grant application.

McGuiness requested DOE’s help to perform a review of Design Thinking Academy last month. But a DOE spokeswoman says no additional information has been requested since.

McGuiness, a Democrat, declined to confirm whether that audit is taking place. But she says she’s following Delaware law. In an email, she said any possible work is internal and non-shareable.

Meanwhile, the two charter audit bills are bottled up in the House.

Williams’ bill stalled in the Education Committee. Committee chair Earl Jaques (D-Newark) said he didn’t put in on its agenda because Williams didn’t discuss it with him.

“I asked for her to come talk to me about it," he said. "I wanted to find out what the issue were, like I do with almost any bill, every bill and she never came and talked to me about it.”

Williams strongly denies that, saying she told Jacques about the bill and asked for it to be heard.

“I explained the whole process, what took place and what transpired," she said. "So I asked him to put it on the agenda. I don’t need his permission to run a bill. That’s not how it works.”

Walsh’s bill, which was similar to Williams' bill, passed the Senate 13 to 6, but faced a new hurdle when it was sent to the House. A fiscal note was attached to the legislation. Walsh said the note - which he feels is unnecessary - was requested by House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach).

Schwartzkopf said the need for a fiscal note is not Walsh’s call. He declined to discuss the bill further, but last month said his friendship with McGuiness, who opposed the legislation, did not play a role in the consideration of it.

Walsh’s bill now sits in the House Education Committee with Williams’ legislation. The chances of either advancing next year is uncertain. Jacques said "neither one’s going anywhere.”

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