Finally. After 9 Years of Scandals, TEA Commissioner Appoints 2 Conservators to Supervise IDEA Charter Schools. 

It has taken years of documented financial scandals by IDEA charter schools to finally force the Texas Education Agency to act by appointing two conservators to supervise operations. The public allegations of improper spending and conflicts of interest at IDEA charter schools, the single largest recipient of recaptured local tax dollars, started with a whistleblower’s complaint back in 2015.

Since then, reporters have spent years documenting numerous IDEA charter school scandals after self-dealing administrators were caught misusing public dollars.   

Notable examples of IDEA financial mismanagement that garnered national attention include:  

Shockingly, the $15 million private luxury jet lease occurred while IDEA was being investigated by TEA and after IDEA promised TEA that it would be “strictly enforcing” new fiscal responsibility policies. This private jet lease was defended by an IDEA executive who was rewarded with a $900,000 severance payment when he departed the charter school chain’s leadership. When those handling the purse strings of the $800 million IDEA charter schools budget consisting of public dollars are self-appointed and not elected, the lack of public accountability or agency oversight invites grift and profiteering with no penalty. 

Although IDEA charter schools try to brand themselves as “IDEA Public Schools,” it has become all too clear to public education advocates, reporters, and now, perhaps, TEA that IDEA is not public and needs immediate oversight of how it spends public dollars.  

The TEA investigation into IDEA charters first began in 2021 based on evidence “that senior IDEA executives used IDEA financial and staff resources for their personal benefit.” But a TEA investigation of charters doesn’t inspire confidence considering the rapid growth of charter schools in Texas is fueled by the same appointed commissioner of education who unilaterally approves the expansion of charters with no public input or notice.  

While the addition of more TEA oversight of IDEA charters is welcomed, we are not optimistic that IDEA suddenly will become more transparent, considering it hired as its superintendent Dr. Jeff Cottrill, the TEA deputy who investigated IDEA for the agency. Moves like the hiring of this investigator remind us that charter schools like IDEA want the benefits of being a public entity, funded by hundreds of millions of public dollars, with none of the transparency or accountability that students and taxpayers deserve. The hubris and entitlement of IDEA executives to treat taxpayer dollars like their personal buffet line while under state investigation is exactly why the charter experiment must be paused. 

We hope the State Board of Education considers these IDEA scandals and the many other examples of Texas charter school mismanagement before approving even one of the 18 new charter school applicants who want to open business in Texas. Charter schools like IDEA have demonstrated exactly what happens when the public is left out of public schools and why all students deserve schools that are accountable to their needs.

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