DALLAS (AP) — Four groups seeking to open charter schools in Texas turned in applications last year that had sections copied from other applications and even claimed parts of another school's public hearing summary as their own, The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday.
The newspaper reported (http://dallasne.ws/1212u3X ) that, despite the copied portions, the aspiring charter operators signed the applications attesting to their accuracy with the hope of winning approval from the State Board of Education and gaining millions of taxpayer dollars.
The board largely dismissed concerns about the copied material. However, the head of the public integrity unit of the Travis County district attorney's office said such practices could be fraudulent, though that office hasn't been asked to investigate.
Texas charter schools receive more than $1 billion in state funds each year. Concerns about the state's vetting process come as Gov. Rick Perry and key state lawmakers push to allow even more charter schools to operate.
State education leaders said they're trying to improve the screening process to ensure that applications reflect unique ideas. That's in keeping with the mission of charter schools, which are public schools run by private, nonprofit groups.
"They're supposed to be models of innovation in the classroom and the community," said Michael Soto, a former state board member from San Antonio. "If you can't even come up with original wording in your application, how can you be innovative?"
The four applications with similar passages were prepared with help from the same consultant, Bracy Wilson of Help Charters LLC in McKinney.
Wilson told the newspaper that the inclusion of the public hearing summaries was an unintentional mistake. He said other copied areas reflect an effort by charter applicants to "look to the past for best practices" from other charters.
One of the four proposed schools, International Leadership of Texas, won state board approval. The school will have campuses in Arlington, Garland and a third undetermined location.
Superintendent Eddie Conger said his school's mission — to make students fluent in English, Spanish and Chinese — is genuine even if parts of its application were not.
"I give myself an F-minus on the paperwork," he said.
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com