As reported earlier today, online charter operators in California with multiple shell corporations have been indicted for embezzling more than $50 million for their charters. 

Also indicted were the leaders of the tiny rural school districts that authorized their charters as a way to collect fat fees for doing nothing. This feature is a serious flaw in the state’s notoriously lax charter law.

A tiny district can authorize a charter in Los Angeles or San Diego, then sit back and collect commissions. Efforts are underway now to fix the law but the California Charter Schools Association has fought all efforts at accountability.

A3 Education recruited small public school districts to sponsor the charter schools in exchange for oversight fees. Prosecutors say A3 enrolled about 40,000 students throughout the state, none of whom received any services.

The company that operated a network of 19 online-only schools is accused of paying sports leagues as little as $25 a student for information used for enrollment. School districts are funded by the state based on the number of students.

The students didn’t know how their names were being used, said San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan, calling them victims…

The Dehesa Elementary School District, which has only about 150 students east of San Diego, authorized several charter schools with oversight for 20,000 students, Stephan said. The $2 million in oversight fees collected one year was more than the district’s annual payroll.

Nancy Hauer, Dehesa’s superintendent, was among 11 people charged in the case. Other defendants were employed by A3 and its charter schools.

The Dehesa school board said it couldn’t comment on the charges and vowed to fully cooperate with investigators. Hauer was not available to comment.

“The Board of Education was stunned to learn about the charges, and we have engaged legal counsel to review this matter and any possible implications for district operations,” the Dehesa district said.

The grand jury returned its indictment May 17 after hearing six weeks of testimony from more than 70 witnesses.

A spokesperson for the charter lobby insisted that it did not approve of “bad actors” but has used its vast resources to kill every legislative effort to amend the law.

The California Charter Schools Association said it raised concerns about A3 more than a year ago with the state education department and urged an investigation.

“To be clear, there is no room for bad actors and irresponsible authorizers in California’s charter public school movement,” said Myrna Castrejón, the group’s president.

As we say in Brooklyn, if you believe the lobbyists who have defeated all efforts to stop self-dealing, I have a bridge to sell you.