Op-Ed: Charter School Funding – It is a Scam

It is not difficult to log onto any local political blog and read commenters complaining about how “their” tax dollars are being misspent.

Typically, the complaints are accompanied by claims of corruption, mismanagement, evil doing and all sorts of back door, smoky room wheeling and dealing.

It has to be true they might say, because they once knew a friend of a friend who used to work in a department that was down the hall from wherever the mismanagement de-jour happens to be taking place who heard a guy at the next urinal in the restroom talking on his cell phone about it.

One thing is clear however, these folks really don’t like it when government entities spend tax dollars on things that they don’t think is worthy.

Public school districts are especially ripe targets, mainly I think, because most of the folks commenting are far removed from being in school and have no real skin in the game other than, at least in Texas, the property taxes that go towards educating our children.

One wonders then, with all the concern about misspent tax payer dollars among this group, why there is no hue and cry from local political bloggers about a recent report that outlined how Public Charter Schools have wasted over ONE BILLION dollars of taxpayer money over the past few years through a Federal program designed to expand charter schools throughout the nation.

The Report, “Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride,” details how a Federal program, the Charter Schools Program or CSP, designed to increase the number of Charter Schools (something championed and administered by the inept Secretary of Education Betsy DeVoss) across the country has literally handed billions of dollars to the charter school industry without any kind of followup or regulation. (Remember that charter schools , while still quasi-public schools, are in fact businesses, not unlike any private business you can think of.)

Among the findings of the report:

Between 2009-2016 close to one in four of the awarded grantee Charter schools either never opened their doors to begin with, or closed, leaving their students and parent to fend for themselves.

Between 2006-2014, the program’s own data showed that one out of three were out of business by 2015. In California, the state with the most charter schools, 306 charter schools received money, 75 never opened their doors and of the ones that did, 39% closed.

The Department of Education (DOE) provided no oversight of the grants, and simply allowed the awardees to take the money and do as they saw fit. In other words, the DOE actually assisted in the scam, never asking for a return of the money, never even checking to see that the money was spent according to the awardee’s grant application.

The program works like this: Once an award is given by the Feds, the money is sent to the State, where the State Education Agency oversees the dissemination of the funds. Once the money is given to the states, the DOE, in the words of Tony Soprano, pretty much “fugetaboutit.”

Among the scammers, according to the report’s co-author Jeff Bryant writing in AlterNet were a “Michigan charter that isn’t a charter at all, it’s a Baptist church—to the artfully deceptive—like the Hawaii charter that received a grant in 2016 and still hasn’t opened, doesn’t have a location, and its charter hasn’t even been approved.”

Perhaps the worst case scenario was the “Innovative Schools Development Company” in Delaware that won multiple awards beginning in 2013, never opened a school until 2015, continued to receive over $2 million in grant funds, closed it’s one school that was open due to low enrollment and poor management , yet somehow still was able to apply and receive additional CSP grants even though THEY HAD GONE OUT OF BUSINESS.

In Texas, the New York Times recently reported on the CSP-funded East Austin College Prep, where vermin invaded offices and classrooms. The roof leaked. Yet for all this, the school paid almost $900,000 in annual rent to its landlord who is also its founder, Southwest Key Programs, the nation’s largest provider of shelters for migrant children who you may remember ran the Migrant Shelter in far east El Paso country for a time. The federal charter grant program gave the school a grant to start the school through its Texas state grant administer by the Texas Education Agency.

Locally, the IDEA Charter Schools have also received part of their funding through the CSP, to expand programs across Texas including El Paso. But that is another column altogether.

It is a scam. It is a grift program, without oversight or transparency. No one knows who the reviewers for the grants are, nor who is in charge of dispersing funds.

Yet, not surprisingly, President Trump’s 2020 budget proposes increasing funding for the charter grant program by 13.6 percent, from $440 to $500 million, and DeVos, who never met a charter school she didn’t orgasm over, praised this increase as a step forward for “education freedom.”

Indeed, in a recent Congressional hearing DeVoss, when confronted with the facts of the amount of waste and fraud occurring in the program simply responded …we need more charter schools, not less.“.”

The rich get richer at the expense of the taxpayer, who in essence are paying private businesses to open or stay open despite the fact that there is no research to show that there is any kind of need or want.

So come on self proclaimed indignant taxpaying watchdogs! Get on the ball! Start making some noise about the Ponzi scheme racket that is going on right under your noses in the name of “education choice” being funded by the Federal Government and administered by the state of Texas.

This is exactly the corruption, mismanagement, evil doing and all sorts of back door, smoky room wheeling and dealing that you love to blog and complain about. No tin foil hat required. The heavy lifting has been done for you.

These are “your” tax dollars actually being wasted.

Where is your outrage?


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.