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Officials: Kansas City Charter Inflates Attendance

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - Administrators and some staff at a Kansas City charter school aimed at dropouts are on leave amid an investigation into inflated attendance and academic problems, Missouri education officials said Tuesday.

Hope Academy’s sponsor, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, was notified about the problems Friday and had an emergency meeting with the school’s board Sunday, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said in a news release. Besides placing some staff on leave, the charter’s board appointed an interim superintendent and hired an external auditor to look into the concerns, the agency said.

The school’s board said in a statement that its “swift response” shows it’s taking the issues seriously and will seek to continue its mission of helping dropouts and students at risk of dropping out.

Charter schools, like traditional public schools, receive state funding based on student enrollment and attendance.

During a surprise visit last month, education department staff found that only 174 of the school’s 636 students or 27.4 percent were in attendance, although the school was reporting a 99.5 percent attendance rate. Additionally, the school reported that 146 of its students had perfect attendance. But when department staff looked closer, they found that only 58 of the students were still attending the school this year, and 55 of those students recorded absences during a six-day period the staff examined, said department spokeswoman Sarah Potter.

“Our biggest concern is that their funding is based on the number of students enrolled and their attendance, and they don’t have an accurate system for recording the attendance,” Potter said. “The students are supposed to be logging in online to complete some of the coursework, but we are finding that they are logging in for a minute at a time and being counted as in attendance for a full day.”

Another problem is the school is one of the lowest performing in the state. The department stressed in its release that more than 80 percent of students at Hope Academy are not scoring in the proficient range on state assessments in English language arts, and 90 percent of its students are not scoring proficient in mathematics.

The agency also had problems with how the school awarded academic credit for jobs. Potter said that to receive the credit, the jobs need to have academic merit and be aligned with curriculum. But Potter said Hope Academy students received credits for domestic chores, baby-sitting, hair-braiding and other ineligible jobs.

The school’s future is uncertain, though it will continue operating through this academic year. As a charter school, Hope Academy is freed from many state requirements but must have a sponsor and a valid charter agreement. Potter said Hope Academy’s charter is up for renewal, and its board said in the statement that it would pursue renewal of the charter. Phyllis Chase, director of the UMKC charter school center, said the university is investigating the allegations and gathering information before making a decision about whether to forward the renewal application to the state board.

“We were surprised and shocked,” Chase said of the attendance allegations. “We had put the school on academic probation about three or four weeks before we received the notice from DESE, so we were having conversations around academics when we received this information.”

The university has agreed to present a plan for addressing the school’s issues by Dec. 1.

© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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