A new audit says the leader of a now-closed St. Louis charter school significantly inflated student attendance for at least three school years to get $1.4 million in additional state funding. State Auditor Nicole Galloway tells Missourinet Michael Malone, who was executive director of St. Louis College Prep Charter School, attempted to cover-up the school’s money problems.
“The actual enrollment that the school reported to the state was less than the average daily attendance that they reported to the state,” says Galloway. “That should have been an immediate red flag, but it was not caught.”
The audit also found suspicious credit card use, including the purchase of gift cards, hotel stays, a vacation package, alcohol and items from Amazon. Malone resigned one year ago after allegedly admitting to fibbing attendance figures. Galloway’s office has sent the audit’s findings to the Attorney General’s Office for review.
“Taxpayers should be made whole,” says Galloway. “This is money that is supposed to go towards educating kids throughout the entire state and this charter school in St. Louis falsified records to get money in a fraudulent way. There should be consequences for that.”
The school opened in 2011 and lost its sponsorship earlier this year from the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
Galloway says she’s interested in a broad review of charter schools’ oversight by their sponsors.
“It’s important to remember that charter schools have multiple levels of oversight,” she says. “There’s a board that overlooks the charter school, a charter school sponsor, which can be a college, university and also the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the state, has oversight of charter schools.”
Galloway goes on to say rigging attendance numbers to get extra state aid is not a widespread problem in Missouri.
“That’s partially what makes this audit so catching is that the executive director admitting to falsifying records and defrauded taxpayers in the state of Missouri of $1.4 million dollars,” she says.
A 2015 state audit found that the former Hope Academy charter school in Kansas City inflated attendance data to get an added $4.3 million in state funds. The school closed in 2014. A 2015 state audit also uncovered that the St. Joseph School District in northwest Missouri fudged attendance information in summer school classes – leading the district to lose $2 million in state aid.
The complete audit report can be found here.
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