Report on charter schools is ‘extremely troubling’
an interview that she found the new report “extremely troubling.”
“It raises some very legitimate questions about a federal grant program that seems to have been operating for years and years with little oversight and very little accountability,” she said.
The report — published by the Network for Public Education, an advocacy group that supports public education and was cofounded by education historian and advocate Diane Ravitch — says that the Education Department has failed for years to properly monitor how its charter grant funding is spent. The new findings follow “Asleep at the Wheel,” the network’s March report which said up to $1 billion was wasted over the life of CSP on charter schools that never opened or opened and then closed. After that report’s release, congressional Democrats voted to cut millions of dollars from the CSP.
Charter schools are financed by the public but privately operated. Most states require that nonprofit organizations open schools, but some permit for-profit companies to operate the schools. About 6% of U.S. schoolchildren attend charter schools. California has the most charter schools and the most charter students; in Los Angeles, 20% of children attend such schools. In the nation’s capital, almost half of Washington, D.C.’s schoolchildren go to charters.
Charter supporters say the 30-year-old movement offers important alternatives to traditional public schools, which educate the vast majority of America’s students, and that the movement is still learning. Opponents say that there is little public accountability over many charters and that they drain resources from traditional districts. Research shows that student outcomes are, overall, largely the same in charter and traditional public schools, though there are failures and exemplars in both.
The new report found:
■ The disbursement of more than $1 billion during the program’s first decade — from 1995 to 2005 — was never monitored, and there is no complete public record of which schools received the funds because the Education Department never required states to report where the money went. During that period, California received $191 million; Florida $158.4 million; and Michigan $64.6 million.
■ The overall rate of failed charter projects from 2006-2014 was 37%, with some states posting a much higher failure rate. In Iowa, for example, 11 charter schools received grants and 10 failed after receiving a total of $3.66 million. The failure rate exceeded 50% in a number of states, including Georgia, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland and Virginia. In California, 37% failed either to open or stay open, after winning nearly $103 million in CSP funding.
■ Although Congress forbids for-profit operators from directly receiving CSP grants, some of them still were able to benefit. The report says 357 schools in the database were run by forprofit chains, for a total cost of $125 million in federal CSP start-up costs. Most of that money was spent in Michigan and in Florida.
In Michigan, 40 charter schools opened with CSP money and then closed. About 80% of charter schools are operated by forprofit companies with what Ulbrich said was unusual impunity. For example, she said, the new report details how some Michigan charter operators took some of the grant money for their own use. “I don’t know of a lot of federal grants that people get where they can turn around and divert the money into their own pockets,” she said.
Michigan, home of Betsy DeVos, has the most charter schools that never opened.