March 24, 2019 11:18 pm

Press Release: Federal Government Wastes Hundreds of Millions on Defunct Charter Schools

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A new report by the Network for Public Education provides a detailed accounting of the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money on charter schools that never open or shut down. It also provides evidence of the discriminatory enrollment practices used by many charters receiving federal funds.


Media Contact: Carol Burris
Phone: 516 993 2141

(NEW YORK, NY) A new report from the Network for Public Education documents that the U.S. Department of Education wastes hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on grants awarded to charter schools that never open or quickly close. The Department of Education is also funding schools that blatantly discriminate in their discipline, curricular, and enrollment practices.

The embargoed report, scheduled for release March 26, 2019, is available for download here

Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride examines schools that have received federal grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program. The report estimates that CSP, over its history, has awarded over $4 billion in seed money to charter schools—many of which are defunct. In California alone the failure rate for federally grant-awarded charters is 39%.

Commenting on the findings of the report, NPE President, Diane Ravitch, said the following, “The federal program to subsidize charter schools is a cesspool of waste, fraud, and abuse. Charter schools close almost as fast as they open. This program should be zeroed out and its funding transferred to programs that serve the neediest students, like Title 1.”

The report also shows that many recipient charter schools and Charter Management Organizations engage in exclusionary practices that keep some economically disadvantaged students, students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners (ELL) out – a contradiction from the federal program’s mission to create and expand the numbers of “high-quality” charters that meet the goal of providing equitable access for disadvantaged students.

“Charter schools that have been promoted as a civil rights solution in urban communities of color are now top promoters of segregation,” said Yohuru Williams, an NPE board member and a professor of history and dean at the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. “That our federal government, which once used its authority to integrate schools, is now a chief source of funding for segregation is reprehensible.”

The report is especially timely given the recent federal budget plan submitted by the Trump administration. Although President Trump has called for a 10% cut to the federal government’s education’s budget in fiscal year 2020, his blueprint proposes increasing funding for the charter school grant program by 13.6%, from $440 to $500 million.

NPE’s analysis places responsibility for the program’s lack of accountability directly on the slipshod process the Department of Education uses to review grant applications. By comparing claims made by charter grant applicants to information on state databases and school websites, NPE’s investigation found numerous examples of federal tax dollars being misspent due to an inattentive process that routinely accepts applicants’ claims without scrutiny. It also documents how the department has systematically ignored warnings issued in audits by its own Office of the Inspector General.

“It’s a tragedy for American students that at a time when their public schools are so depleted of resources and their teachers are walking out of classrooms in protest, we have a substantial funding source that is generating enormous waste,” said Carol Burris, the Executive Director of NPE and co-author of the report.

NPE is an advocacy group whose mission is to preserve, promote, improve and strengthen public schools for both current and future generations of students.