A critique of a GAO report on charter schools
By Carol Burris
Congress last year directed the GAO to investigate the controversial federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which was the subject of regulatory reform by the Biden administration this year. In a 2021 appropriations bill, the House Committee on Appropriation said:
The Committee requests GAO to provide a report to the Committees on Appropriations on the Department’s oversight over CSP and whether the program is being implemented effectively among grantees and subgrantees. The report should include an analysis of CSP grant amounts over time that supported charter schools, with a particular focus on schools that eventually closed or received funds but never opened; the relationships between charter schools supported by CSP grants and charter management organizations; and an analysis of enrollment patterns at these schools, especially for students with disabilities. The report should examine ways to improve the Department’s oversight of CSP as well as make recommendations on potential legislative changes to the program that would reduce the potential for mismanagement and ineffective operations.
The GAO report published in October does not address all of Congress’s mandate and, according to my research conducted over several months, severely undercounts the number of closed CSP schools and the federal dollars spent on them. In addition, that error has a ripple effect on findings throughout the report. What follows explains what went wrong, and the facts that back up these conclusions.