Charter schools are gaining momentum among parents looking to leave failing public schools behind. But in a more disturbing trend, charter schools have also been shown to be the growing victims of massive schemes to steal funds away from students and education. In the most recent criminal case breaking headlines, former education advisor under the Obama era, Seth Andrew, was found guilty of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a New York charter school he founded.
According to reports from CNBC News, Seth Andrew was sentenced by a judge in the U.S. District Court in Manhatten to spend a year and one day in federal prison for stealing money from the charter school he founded in 2005. The 43-year-old was well known around the nation not only for the school he started, but for his role as an advisor for the White House, and his marriage to CBS News anchor Lana Zak. Over time, Andrew stole $218,000 from the school and now has paid much more than that back in fees for his crime.
Seth Andrew founded Democracy Prep Public Schools in 2005. Operating within New York City, it functioned as a charter school in the state. From 2014 to 2016, he served as a senior advisor and superintendent-in-residence at the U.S. Department of Education. Likewise, he was a senior advisor in the Office of Educational Technology during Barack Obama’s time in the White House.
According to reports, Seth Andrew’s ties with the charter school he helped founded were cut nearly two years before he perpetrated the theft. Legal prosecutors stated that in 2019, Andrew took money out of various charter schools’ escrow accounts that operated within the Democracy Prep network. The purpose of this theft was so that he and his wife could show higher balances in their bank accounts, and in turn secure a lower interest rate for a mortgage on their Manhatten home, which was valued well above $2 million. His wife was not charged and is said to have had no knowledge or play in this scheme.
Seth Andrew was already demanded in court to pay back all the money he stole from the charter network in restitution. What’s more, he was fined $5,000, and ordered to shell out $22,537 in forfeiture. Overall, his 366-day sentence appears to have let the criminal get off easy at the hands of the judge. This peculiar sentencing was done so so that he may not have to serve the full sentence in federal prison.
Prosecutors called the scheme a heinous act purposely laid out against the charter school that was done so in a matter of retribution against the school system for not re-approving Seth Andrew as a head figure in the network. However, a spokesperson for Andrew asserts his innocence, demanding that he never used the funds to attain a mortgage. Andrew’s defense claims that he never denied moving the money out of the escrow, and states that the funds were simply moved to another business he had ties with because Andrew was told the account’s dormant status was risking the fund’s forfeiture.
Cases like this one involving former education advisor Seth Andrew seem to be occurring at alarming rates all across the nation. Skeptics of how charter and private school networks are run fear that it is because of lenient laws that don’t require as much transparency on how school funds are tracked. Regardless of what Andrew’s motives may have been when transferring the funds, the verdict is in, and Democracy Prep now is merely content that they have received their funds back.