The San Diego Union-Tribune featured a front-page top-of-the-fold story by Kristin Taketa about the deepening troubles of the “Inspire” charter chain, which is growing across the state despite academic and financial woes.

The headline: “Inspire Charter Schools Grow As Results Lag.”

The Inspire network of 12 home charter schools is quickly spreading its reach across California as some are calling into question its educational, organizational and financial practices.

At the heart of the Inspire network is a corporation whose CEO makes about $380,000 a year and who helped create the Inspire schools, which now pay his corporation 15 percent of the taxpayer funds they collect.

Inspire has grown in part by advertising that parents can decide how to spend$2,600 or more a year toward their child’s education, with a teacher’s approval. Inspire operates on the idea that parents should have freedom to decide how their children are educated.

Inspire parents have been able to spend state-provided money on expenses they say are educational, from Disneyland annual passes to private ice skating coaching. The list of places where Inspire parents could spend school funds has included Costco, Amazon, Big Air Trampoline Park, Medieval Times, Guitar Center and the DNA testing company 23 and Me, according to Inspire’s list of approved vendors.

Meanwhile, Inspire students are required to meet with teachers and turn in assignments once a month.

The charter network is based in Duarte and enrolled 23,400 students last year.

State data show that Inspire schools underperformed academically. Last year, all Inspire schools performed below the state average in English and math test scores, with some schools showing as few as 16 percent of their students passing math and as few as 25 percent passing English. The state average is 39 percent for math and 50 percent for English.

Put together, Inspire schools had an average graduation rate of 69 percent last year and produced seven graduates — out of 209— who met California state college or university admission requirements.

Why does the State Education Department tolerate this waste of children’s lives and taxpayers’ money?

When will the Legislature crack down on these sham schools?

The good news is that a major newspaper, the San Diego Union-Tribune, is assigning excellent reporters to cover these scandals, which are especially flagrant in California due to the state’s weak charter law, which assures that charters will be unregulated and unaccountable. In the past, the Union-Tribune was considered a conservative paper. It may still be. Conservatives should be outraged by this fraudulent education and blatant misuse of public funds.