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Group Marches for More Transparency in Charter School System

Julian Routh

In wake of a report detailing alleged charter school fraud, members of the group Action United and other concerned parents took to the streets of Downtown Pittsburgh Thursday morning to demand more oversight from their local government.

Since 1997, there has been more than $30 million in proven or charged fraud, waste or abuse in Pennsylvania’s charter school system, according to the report released Wednesday.

To bring attention to this, the group marched from the offices of Governor Tom Corbett at Piatt Place to the Urban Pathways School on Penn Avenue, which was under fire in 2010 for spending more than $12,000 in government funding on restaurant charges and staff retreats. The school also allegedly used state tax money to build schools in Ohio.

Action United, a Pennsylvania group that fights what it calls "injustice" in the state, is asking charter schools to sign a fraud prevention pledge, which promises schools will institute a fraud risk management program and conduct fraud assessments.

Hazel Blackman, president of the regional council for Action United, said there needs to be more accountability in the Corbett administration and among charter schools.  

“The reason we came out is because it’s been secretive and hidden behind closed doors what’s going on,” Blackman said. “The leadership needs to be in place to help solve what’s going on with the taxpayers’ dollars.”

Charter schools are public schools, funded by the state, that receive money based on the number of students enrolled.

A report in May by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education said more than $136 million has been wasted in charter schools nationwide since 1997.

Action United member Bill Bartlett said this is an injustice, and that it calls for stronger leadership to be elected Nov. 4.

“We have kids who have no textbooks, we have programs being cut, we’ve got over $1 billion cut from education already,” Bartlett said. “On top of that you’re going to take $30 million and skim it off the top and put it into the pockets of crooks. That’s absolutely wrong.”