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Education

Hope Academy Fails To Return Funds, Missouri Attorney General Files Suit

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is suing shuttered Kansas City charter school Hope Academy to the tune of $3.7 million.

An audit released last month found the school grossly overstated its daily attendance, resulting in millions of dollars in overpayments from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Hope Academy claimed 97 percent attendance. But only about a third of students ever showed up for class.

“The real issue here is the falsification of those attendance records. We’re going to have to really understand how that operated, how that happened before we can get to the end of this litigation,” says Joe Bindbeutel with the Attorney General’s Office.

Bindbeutel says the state has had to sue a charter school before to recoup costs. That’s what happened when Renaissance Academy closed in 2012. Eventually the charter paid up and that money went back to other Kansas City schools.

In the case of Hope Academy, the state still might not know the full extent of wrongdoing. The report from State Auditor Nicole Galloway only scrutinized the school’s records back to 2012, but she concluded the falsification of attendance records could have started two years earlier.

Hope Academy paid the state $600,000 before it closed. But at the time of the audit, it had far less in the bank than the $3.7 million it still owed.

Bindbeutel says this much is clear: a lot of money was spent even after the school closed. He says the suit will help the state figure out what assets Hope Academy had back in 2014.

“Until we have all that information, we can’t really know what the appropriate balances are and how much money was ill-gotten gain, if you will, from the state,” Bindbeutel says.

The Attorney General’s Office wants a temporary restraining order to keep Hope Academy from spending any more money. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 4.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

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