Is charter school fraud the next Enron?

Source: Preston Green III, The Conversation, April 27, 2017

… As a scholar who studies the legal and policy issues pertaining to school choice, I’ve observed that the same type of fraud that occurred at Enron has been cropping up in the charter school sector. A handful of school officials have been caught using the Enron playbook to divert funding slated for these schools into their own pockets. … Enron’s downfall was caused largely by something called “related-party transactions.” Understanding this concept is crucial for grasping how charter schools may also be in danger. Related-party transactions are business arrangements between companies with close associations: It could be between two companies owned or managed by the same group or it could be between one large company and a smaller company that it owns. Although related-party transactions are legal, they can create severe conflicts of interest, allowing those in power to profit from employees, investors and even taxpayers.

… Without strict regulation, some bad actors have been able to take advantage of charter schools as an opportunity for private investment. In the worst cases, individuals have been able to use related-party transactions to fraudulently funnel public money intended for charter schools into other business ventures that they control. … Fraudulent related-party transactions can also occur between education management organizations (EMOs) and their affiliates. EMOs are for-profit or nonprofit entities that sometimes manage charter schools, and might also own smaller companies that could provide services to those schools. … Because of insufficient oversight, Fastow’s fraudulent use of related-party transactions at Enron was not stopped until it was too late. Similarly, the Ivy Academia and Renaissance Academy examples reveal insufficient checks and balances in the charter school sector. In both cases, the monitors responsible for protecting charter schools found nothing wrong with the rental agreements. …