Pleasant Community Academy cleared in State probe on attendance

Several Ohio charter schools have far fewer students showing up to class than they report to the state, according to a state auditor’s investigation released Thursday. Pleasant Community Academy was one of the schools included in the investigation, but was cleared of any potential wrongdoing.

Unannounced visits by state investigators to 30 charter schools around the state found seven schools with “unusually high” attendance variances between 34 percent and 100 percent, according to the report from Auditor Dave Yost’s office.

Charter schools, like traditional schools, receive state funding based on student head counts.

Yost, at a news conference, said he couldn’t say whether the discrepancies were the result of fraud, and the report doesn’t recommend any punishment or recovering any state funding from any of the schools studied.

However, the auditor said the report shows that the numbers the state relies on to fund the schools “are not terribly accurate.” Yost said that, among other things, the state should require schools to report enrollment rates on a monthly basis, rather than yearly.

At one school, the Academy for Urban Scholars in Youngstown, a team from the auditor’s office visiting last October found zero students in class when 95 kids were supposed to be enrolled. The school’s director said that all students had been dismissed early that day after they practiced for the Ohio Graduation Test, according to the report.

At Invictus High School in Cleveland, a school that reported enrolling 171 full-time equivalent students, auditor’s staff found only 113 students signed in and signed out on the day of their visit last October. Invictus’ director told the auditor’s office that the discrepancy could have been due to some students boycotting class in protest of a recent change in school start times.

All seven schools cited in the report are dropout recovery and prevention schools, which specifically serve at-risk students and typically have an attendance rate of about 50 percent.

The report found no issues at nearly half of the schools investigated, including Pleasant Community Academy, a charter school sponsored by Pleasant Local Schools in Marion County. Yost’s report said that other than the routine monitoring activities, AOS does not believe these community schools require further investigation by ODE or their sponsors.

Site visits at Pleasant Community Academy found 5% more kids attending than reported at one visit and 4% less students at another visit.

The report recommended that Ohio law on community schools should be strengthened to reduce the risk of overfunding and conflicts of interest.

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