San Diego

Inspire Charter School Used Taxpayer Money for Recruitment, Critics Say

The more students enrolled in a public school, the more money the school gets from the state. But critics of one charter school say the school used taxpayer dollars to recruit students, not to educate them.

NBC 7 Investigates has obtained documents showing Inspire Charter School at one time offered money to recruit students and teachers. The documents shed light on allegations from other charter school educators who say they have lost teachers and students to Inspire due to what they call “unethical practices.”

“They were using public funds as bonuses to provide students, parents, and teachers with additional monies that were not being given to other students, parents, and teachers,” said Jeff Rice, Executive Director of A-Plus, a statewide membership association supporting homeschool charters. “We think that was a clear violation,” he said.

Last year, A-Plus did not renew Inspire's membership.

Inspire told NBC7 Investigates in August it does not offer bonuses to families or teachers who recruited families. But, according to an undated document, there was a new student referral incentive program that offered a $200 allowance credit for each new Kindergarten through 12th grade student who enrolled in Inspire. The money was to be spent on enrichment. According to another undated document, staff members were offered $100 for each new family that enrolled in Inspire, the money to be in the form of extra work hours.

Terri Schiavone, the director of a Golden Valley Charter School says “That’s a gift of public funds. The public education dollars are to be spend on a child.”

The documents are not dated and Inspire would not say when the programs existed or for how long. It released this statement from its Interim Executive Director Doctor, Steve Lawrence:

"Neither Inspire District Office nor any Inspire school currently provides any reward or compensation - monetary or otherwise - to anyone as an incentive to enroll or convince others to enroll in an Inspire school. For the last two years, Inspire leadership has worked to ensure that the policies and practices of the schools are consistent with our shared mission to be providers of excellent educational options for families as well as accountable and transparent stewards of public funds. We understand the trust that families and authorizing districts have placed in us and we are working every day to be worthy of that trust."

NBC 7 Investigates has been reporting on the home school-based charter since August, when charter school educators alleged Inspire lacked oversight and accountability. Since then, Inspire has made changes to the way it operates.

Inspire says it made those changes not for legal reasons, but because of perception in the wake of new laws being passed regarding charter schools. Meanwhile, the California Association of Charter Schools has ended its relationship with Inspire and the state is doing a preliminary investigation into Inspire’s finances.

The Dehesa School District, which authorizes two Inspire schools, has hired an accounting firm to look at the finances of Inspire as well as other charter schools Dehesa authorizes.

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