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TEA Imposes Conservatorship On Texas’ Largest Charter School Network

The Texas Education Agency has placed the state’s largest charter school network under conservatorship following a multiyear investigation into alleged financial misconduct.

IDEA Public Schools on Wednesday announced an agreement with the TEA that will allow the state agency to direct school leaders to comply with a state corrective action plan. IDEA had been under investigation since 2021 for improper spending.

According to the San Antonio Express-News, IDEA would have spent up to $15 million to lease a private luxury jet for its executives. This came just two weeks after the network promised the TEA that it would enforce new fiscal responsibility policies put in place in response to an ongoing investigation.

The investigation led to the firing of former superintendent and IDEA co-founder JoAnn Gama. According to the Texas Tribune, she later filed a lawsuit against IDEA for wrongful termination, and the network reached a $475,000 settlement with Gama in January. After that settlement, co-founder and CEO Tom Torkelson left in 2020 with a $900,000 severance package.

IDEA serves about 80,000 students in K-12 and received about $821 million in state funding in the 2023-2024 school year.

The TEA announced Wednesday that the investigation had ended and that it had appointed two conservators as part of a settlement. These would have the authority to oversee and direct all actions of the district, facilitate a needs assessment, conduct on-site inspections, and assist in the creation of a corrective action plan.

While the conservators won’t take over the district outright, that outcome is not entirely impossible if the district fails to make the necessary corrections.

In a written statement, IDEA said it was pleased to have reached an agreement with the state.

“Before 2020, the priority at IDEA was rapid growth, but there lacked a parallel emphasis on ensuring that the funds fueling that growth were properly administered and documented as required by law,” the network wrote in the statement. “IDEA has since installed new board members and executive leadership, enlarged the staff responsible for grant management and compliance, and strengthened internal controls and auditing procedures.”

The district also said it would return $28.7 million in grant and formula funds to the U.S. Department of Education, saying the funds were “reserved in a prior fiscal year to ensure repayment has a negligible impact on IDEA students and staff.”

The TEA took over the Houston Independent School District in June after years of poor academic performance, and the Austin Independent School District avoided the measure after reaching a settlement with the state agency.

Written by RA News staff.


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