The idea behind charter schools is that, because the government does not measure them through traditional public school standards, they have the freedom to innovate, thrusting them at the frontline of education reform.
To one of New York City’s biggest charter school organizations, Success Academy, this freedom means that the state does not have authority to audit them. And upon learning that state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli had planned to audit one of its schools next week, Success Academy filed a lawsuit against his office earlier this month, asking the Albany Supreme Court to rule state audits on charter schools unconstitutional.
Success Academy, which runs 14 K-7 schools in the city and is working to add eight more, has strong legal footing on which to build its case.
In 2005, the New York State Legislature passed a law that made the comptroller’s office responsible for auditing charter schools. But four years later, the State Court of Appeals ruled that “that the Legislature exceeded its constitutional authority by delegating and directing the Comptroller to conduct audits of charter schools.”
The state’s highest court concluded that laws that “direct the Comptroller to conduct audits of charter schools are thus declared unconstitutional.”
In 2010, though, the state legislature passed another law that allowed the comptroller to audit charter schools. Policymakers saw state audits as a way to hold charter schools accountable for how they spent public funds.
From the start, the city’s charter schools considered challenging the policy. In a September 2010 “Guide for NYC Charter Schools,” the New York City Charter School Center wrote:
School leaders will note a possible threat to autonomy in a new provision that purports to allow the comptroller to conduct fiscal and other audits of charter schools. In 2009, New York’s highest court overturned a similar provision as unconstitutional, and we do not believe this new provision is any less so. The New York City Charter School Center will work with school leaders and the New York Charter Schools Association to determine the best strategy to address this issue, including the possibility of returning to court.
Now, three years later, that’s exactly what Success Academy has done. The school claims there is already enough oversight and accountability outside of a state audit–schools face independent audits and must submit annual reports to the state Board of Regents, according the suit, which was first reported by the Courthouse News Service.
The school also cited its effectiveness, explaining in the complaint that it brings a top-notch education to undeserved minority communities. Success Academy has seven schools in Harlem, two in Bed-Stuy, and two in the Bronx. Harlem 1, the school slated for DiNapoli’s audit, is 99 percent minority. In 2012, the school stated in court documents, every single Harlem 1 student in third through sixth grade passed their math and English standardized tests.
DiNapoli’s audit on Harlem 1 school is scheduled to start July 15.