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Charter school violated enrollment rules, APS says

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

An Albuquerque Public Schools-authorized charter school was investigated by district officials after it gave preferential treatment to some students on its wait list.

After bills were introduced during the legislative session that included a funding cap for students who are 22 years and older, Albuquerque Charter Academy selected some students off the list who would be affected by the cap, expediting their admission ahead of other students waiting to be enrolled.

While the school’s executive director says the goal was to give older students access to a high school diploma before changes kicked in, that decision broke the school’s admission policy and state statute, the APS investigation found.

Sen. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who was a cosponsor of a bill that included the age cap, explained that students who are 22 or older and attended the school already will get the same funding in the 2019-20 school year. But after this school year, the state will not be using school funding formula money for the older students, she said.

Erik Bose, executive director of Albuquerque Charter Academy, told the Journal in an interview that the school selected about 20 students, who were 22 or older, off its wait list to be admitted in the next batch of enrollment.

The Albuquerque Charter Academy list had roughly 300 students at the time, according to Bose.

He said the reason for pushing up the older students on the list was to get them on the roster before they would no longer be funded and, therefore, no longer admittable into the school.

Bose said the school was well intentioned.

“We are guilty of trying to help people get a high school diploma,” Bose said, adding the other, younger students who were bypassed on the list could be enrolled at a different time.

But the school’s policy and procedure states, “Scholars will be enrolled to attend ABQ Charter Academy in a first-come, first-served manner. Once the school is at capacity, any subsequent applicants will be placed on a wait list located on our website. ABQ Charter Academy will admit scholars from the wait list when a spot becomes available and this will serve as our ‘lottery’.”

Bose admitted the school “didn’t follow its policy 100%.”

A letter from the APS charter school department showed an investigation took place at the school after an “external complaint,” which the department’s senior director, Joseph Escobedo, said came from the Legislative Education Study Committee.

Escobedo said the school would have been investigated no matter who made the complaint.

“It was not investigated because it was the LESC, it was investigated because it was an allegation of state law being broken,” he said.

The complaint followed an Albuquerque Charter Academy governing council meeting in March in which school officials discussed enrolling students who were over 21 years old.

“It looks like the governor will approve a student age cap of 22 years old. We have called all of the potential students on our waiting list who are 22 and older and offered to enroll them before this new rule takes effect. If they do, they will be grandfathered in and can stay with us until they graduate,” minutes from the March 19 meeting say.

Bose said the minutes didn’t show the intent of picking those students off the wait list.

The school will present remedies to APS’ charter school team by the end of the month.

Bose told the Journal that the school will use technology to maintain the wait list moving foreword and put an administrator in place to monitor the new automated system.

He also said the school will no longer serve students 22 years old or older due to the age cap, which he projects will affect more than 100 people that were trying to get into his school.

APS can take the corrective action plan into consideration when it comes time to renew the school’s charter, which had 307 students in the 2018-19 school year.

According to Escobedo, the school, which opened in 2004 under a different name, will be up for renewal in 2023.

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