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Investigative series looks into $19M public charter school

Program closure sparked anger, frustration, questions
By: Jon Schultz, Journal Staff Writer
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CHARTER SCHOOLS SERIES

The midyear closure of a popular Horizon Charter Schools program in Placer County, displaced hundreds of students, angered parents and sparked questions about what led to the sudden problems with one of the longest standing charters in California.

The Journal and its Gold Country Media partners launched an effort to shed light on the state of Horizon and charter schools in general.

Part 1: How Horizon’s $800,000 investment, other facilities went awry

Part 2: A snapshot of Horizon’s finances; a look at its CEO

Part 3: Horizon issue reveals oversight is a balance of risk, flexibility

Part 4: A charter success story

Part 5: Comparing charter schools to traditional public schools

 

One of the original pillars of the charter educational movement in California has been shaken.

Horizon Charter Schools is one of the longest standing charters in the state. Authorized in 1993, it is celebrating its 20th year of existence – only 14 charters authorized in the state before it.

It has about 2,700 students spanning six counties in various programs, including two based in Auburn. It is one of the largest nonprofits in Placer County, with a $19 million revenue in 2010-11.

But the recent midyear closure of its Accelerated Learning Academy in Rocklin and Lincoln has not only forced Horizon to take a hard look at its own operations, but raised criticism and questions from former parents and teachers who had their lives affected.

In the coming days, the Journal and its Gold Country Media partners will run a series of stories on the state of Horizon Charter Schools, as well as providing a look at issues surrounding charter schools in general.

For Horizon, an autopsy of the program closure looks at what went wrong and what can be learned from the experience, including an answer to the question of oversight.

The ALA’s popularity ultimately played a part in its demise, as it outgrew its facilities and finding a new location proved too tough to accomplish for a scrambling group of parents and administrators – though those parents would later question the motives of the latter.

The program’s “core knowledge” curriculum featured progressive project-based learning where K-8 students would meet at 290 Technology Way in Rocklin and the Lincoln Christian Life Center, which held the three lower grades.

The wake of the ALA closure brings not only anger and frustration but also a significant amount of taxpayer money wrapped up in a currently unusable learning center. According to tax records, Horizon is funded more than 99 percent by public monies.

Little more than a year after Horizon invested in excess of $800,000 in tenant improvements at 290 Technology Way, the site closed and has been shuttered since October 2012.

It also hosted Horizon’s high school Rocklin Academy of Math, Science and Engineering – combined with ALA, 391 total students had been attending classes there.

The Journal series will start Wednesday and run through Tuesday.

 

Jon Schultz can be reached at jons@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_AJNews