September 5, 2018 / Modified sep 5, 2018 11:04 a.m.

Arizona AG: Lawmakers Must Pass Charter School Reforms

Call comes following a report about the financial activities at a major online charter school.

brnovich 2018 Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich in Phoenix, January 2018.
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

PHOENIX — Arizona's attorney general is calling for legislation to lend more oversight to the state's charter schools in response to a recent investigation by The Arizona Republic into financial dealings at a major online school.

Mark Brnovich's remarks came after the Republic previously reported that Primavera online charter school, which has a dropout rate 10 times higher than the state average, paid Chief Executive Damian Creamer an $8.8 million shareholder distribution, The Arizona Republic reported.

The investigation also found Primavera accumulated a $36 million investment portfolio from its share of state education funds instead of using that money to pay teachers and reduce class sizes.

Brnovich, a Republican running for re-election in November, said he wants candidates for the Arizona Legislature to join him in pursuing charter school reform.

Ashley Berg, the Charter Board's executive director, called the board an "objective enforcement body" that operates "to implement the law as it exists and to ensure that all charter schools and charter operators follow those laws."

Despite numerous requests for Primavera online charter school to respond to questions, school officials provided no comment on The Republic's reporting before publication.

Primavera spokesman Jason Rose said last week that the $8.8 million distribution given to Creamer was used to pay current and projected state and federal income taxes associated with the company's profits.

Rose declined to disclose the profits that were used to calculate Creamer's tax liability, nor would he say if Creamer was using the distribution to pay taxes on income earned outside of Primavera.

Rose added that Primavera will use the state money it invested in recent years to start new charter schools in Arizona.

Current state law impedes Brnovich's office from fully investigating charter schools, said Brnovich, who has two daughters in charter schools. That's because the Legislature has exempted charter schools from procurement and conflict-of-interest laws that traditional district schools are subject to.

Brnovich said lawmakers should pass legislation that allows the state auditor general to investigate the finances of charter schools. Currently, the auditor general can investigate only traditional public schools. Charter schools receive up to $2,000 more in per-pupil state funding than district schools.

Brnovich also wants legislation that requires charter schools to segregate public funds from private funds in businesses related or tied to the charter school. Arizona permits for-profit businesses to own charter schools.

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