This article is the last of a five-part series called “Cashing in on Charter Schools,” published by northjersey.com and USA Today New Jersey and written by Jean Rimbach and Abbott Koloff.

The post examines possible fixes for the problems and profiteering described in previous entries in the series. 

This concluding article in a series that revealed widespread theft of public funds is deeply disappointing. Instead of recommending an end to New jersey’s Ill-fated and disastrous experiment in charter schools, turning public money over to secretive and unaccountable entrepreneurs and national corporate, chains, the authors wimp out.

“A short-sighted law, a lack of funding and inadequate oversight has left New Jersey’s charter schools to find their own way when it comes to filling a basic need: finding a home.

“The result is a system that allows charter school operators to use public money to pay for buildings that are privately owned. It can push charter schools and the support groups that own and finance real estate on their behalf into unusual and costly building deals, leaving taxpayers to pick up the tab.

“It’s a system in which financial transactions often play out behind a wall of secrecy, away from the public eye and beyond the reach of open records laws.”

The system of financing charter schools is broken.

The article interviews experts about ways to fix it.

The fix must begin with financial transparency. But the major charter chains refuse to open their books for public inspection.

“Private groups tied to charter schools — many of them created solely to hold real estate — also declined to provide records related to projects and their financing, saying they are not subject to public records laws.

“In many cases, both the schools and their support groups declined to discuss details of financial transactions related to construction projects.

”The state Education Department said that it “does not have the authority to review financing or lease agreements before they are signed” and that it “doesn’t oversee private related companies.”

“I disagree; I think they have the authority because they’re using public money,” said Joseph V. Doria Jr., a former state legislator who was an author of the state’s charter school law. “If they feel they don’t have the authority, just introduce legislation.”

But none of the parties to the transactions wants to open their books.

“The dearth of public information means, for example, that taxpayers can’t see why the Friends of TEAM Academy, which supports the Newark charter school, has earned millions of dollars in development fees or how that money is spent.

“Taxpayers won’t know why Uncommon Schools donated millions to North Star Academy but then required that the money be spent on a building owned by a related company.

“Taxpayers can’t see the agreement that the Friends of Marion P. Thomas Charter School signed with a developer that had the Friends pay out $6.4 million in fees as part of a two-building deal. The group’s attorney would not provide it and the charter school said it did not have a copy.”

In other words, the charters want to be treated as “public schools” to get money but insist they are “private” when the public wants to review their finances.

What the article never considers is whether charter schools are needed and whether the state would be wiser to invest the same hundreds of millions millions in improving the public schools that most students attend.