Audits find financial issues with some Florida charter schools

(The Center Square) — The Florida Auditor General’s office has released two reports that detail significant issues and financial trends in the Sunshine State’s charter schools, charter technical career centers and district school boards.

There are 720 charter schools and charter technical career centers operating in Florida, with the majority in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. State law requires these schools to be annually audited by an independent certified public accountant.

In the audit, 713 charter school audit reports and records regarding financial trends for fiscal 2022-2023 were reviewed.

This review found 94 issues in 64 of the 713 reports, with 24 issues were considered material weaknesses in internal controls over financial reporting requirements. In comparison, 13 issues were deemed noncompliance findings, required by law to be reported by government auditing standards.

Of the 13 charter schools identified as having at least one noncompliance finding – three had incurred expenses in excess of their respective budgets, two failed to comply with requirements, and one had a fund balance deficit.

In total, 61 issues or 65% of the 94 issues reported in 39 reports, were considered significant deficiencies by auditors. Prevalent topics classified as being required by accounting standards to be reported included budget administration, deficit fund balances, improper maintenance of accounting records, and financial control deficiencies.

Ten charter schools were noted as having inadequate controls over budget administration, increasing the risk of inappropriate use of financial resources. Nine were found to have deficit fund balances, seven needed to properly maintain accounting records and five had purchasing or disbursement control deficiencies.

The report notes many of the issues found were repeat findings from previous years not yet resolved.

To measure financial trends, auditors used ratios of the charter schools’ total assigned and unassigned fund balances, or unrestricted net assets to total revenues of general funds or other unrestricted funds.

In FY 2023, which ended June 30, 263 charter schools had ratios above average, 395 had a below-average ratio but had positive or zero balances, while 55 had ratios with deficit balances. In 2022, 51 charter schools reported a deficit. Two audit reports included statements from accountants questioning whether the schools could continue operations.

In a separate report which reviewed 20 district school boards, four needed to timely submit audit reports, with one being submitted 52 to 497 days after receiving the report from their respective accountants.