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Legislator calls for fraud audit of state's largest charter school chain

caption: Puget Sound Elementary School is pictured on Friday, April 29, 2022, in Tukwila.
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Puget Sound Elementary School is pictured on Friday, April 29, 2022, in Tukwila.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

State Rep. Gerry Pollet has called for fraud and performance audits of Impact Public Schools, Washington’s largest charter school chain, following a KUOW investigation that found scant services for students learning English and a lack of support for students with disabilities.

Rep. Pollet (D-Seattle), who chairs the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee, asked the state auditor to look into operations at Impact, which has charter schools in Seattle, Tukwila and Tacoma, and a fourth scheduled to open in Renton.

In a June 7th letter, Pollet asked the auditor to examine whether Impact pushed out students whose test scores were not high enough, including by pressing them to repeat the grade; verify Impact staff claims that they never received the trainings for which the schools billed the state; look at the services offered to English language learners, for which Impact has collected approximately $857,000 in state funding since 2018; and assess whether students with disabilities got identified and served as required by state and federal law.

“A financial audit is necessary to determine if these and numerous other allegations are correct,” Pollet wrote. “A performance audit is warranted to determine if the financial incentives or other policies resulted in students not receiving evaluations, assessments, interventions or failure to provide special education and English Language Learning services.”

Neither Impact Public Schools nor the State Auditor's Office responded to requests for comment for this story.

Sen. Lisa Wellman (D-Mercer Island), who chairs the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, has also pledged to probe how Impact Public Schools serves students. Wellman said she was appalled by the allegations from the dozens of current and former staff and parents at the schools that Impact leaders make special education hard to obtain and have no English language learner services.

Wellman said if the allegations are true, “I damn well intend to find out.”

In an interview, Pollet said he’d like to see legislation that tightens state oversight of charter schools and that requires that at least some charter school board members be elected, not just appointed.

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