Melinda Deslatte / The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. -- The state Department of Education had gaps in its monitoring of the academic and contractual performance of Louisiana charter schools last year, according to a legislative audit released Monday.
The review by Louisiana Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera's Office says the department didn't verify that school-reported data used to grade performance was reliable, couldn't prove it tracked the legal obligations required of charter schools and didn't make sure eight charter schools put on probation in 2010 met the standards to remain open in 2012.
The audit looked at charter school monitoring activities during the 2011-12 budget year that ended June 30. Auditors said the education department complied with state requirements for monitoring the schools' financial performance.
"However, LDOE did not perform all required academic monitoring activities ... In addition, we found that LDOE could not provide evidence that it comprehensively monitored the legal/contractual performance of these charter schools," the audit says.
Charter schools are independently-run, publicly-funded schools that operate outside many of the regulations required of traditional public schools. The audit says nearly 46,000 students were enrolled in 99 charter schools last year, during the time of the review.
Some charter schools were overseen by local school boards. Seventy-eight were supervised by the Department of Education, and they were the schools included in the auditors' review.
Purpera's office recommended that the education department use regular data audits to ensure that the information reported by schools -- and used to calculate a school's annual performance score in Louisiana's accountability system -- is reliable.
"Student performance is the primary measure of school quality and is the main component for LDOE's (charter) renewal and extension decisions," the audit says. "Therefore, it is critical that the data LDOE uses to calculate the (performance scores) of schools is reliable."
The audit also recommends a stronger process for annually reviewing the charter schools' contractual performance.
In a written response submitted by Superintendent of Education John White, the education department said it uses the same data verification process for traditional public and charter schools.
White disagreed with the need for data audits of charter schools to double-check school performance scores, saying that would be an ineffective use of resources, but he said the agency will "continue to revisit and improve our data validation processes year after year."
The department response said it has updated its method this year for ensuring legal obligations of the charter schools are met.