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Betsy DeVos is giving $65 million of public money to Charter Schools across the country, despite the long-standing lack of accountability with Charter Schools

April 13, 2020

Last Friday, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, announced that the Department of Education has awarded $65 million to create and expand Public Charter Schools

In a Press Release, DeVos claimed that hundreds of thousands of kids were on a charter school wait list and that these charter schools would serve, “families living in economically distressed communities.”

This claim, made by many Charter Schools advocates, that they will serve students in economically distressed communities, is a rather deceptive way of framing the issue. Charter Schools were created across the country by people like Betsy & Dick DeVos as a way to bring organized religion into schools, to re-direct public funding for private educational systems, and to undermine public teacher unions.

The Department of Education’s press release, doesn’t mention anything about how the federal agency will monitor and account for the effectiveness of the $65 million that are being allocated to the 13 Charter Schools systems across the country. This should be an urgent matter for taxpayers, especially since Charter Schools across the country have a fairly poor track record when it comes to federal funding.

According to the 2019 report, Still Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter School Programs Results in a Pileup of Fraud and Waste, there has been over $1 billion in federal funding for Charter Schools that either never opened or have since closed. The report’s Executive Summary states: 

It is impossible to document total waste for the entire 25 year program because the Department never required the states to report the names of funded schools until 2006. However, we have now documented $502,468,123 (28 percent of the total database amount) that was awarded to schools from grants that were active between SY 2006-07 and SY 2013-14 that never opened or that have closed. Applying that percentage to the total expenditures ($4.1 billion) of the CSP programs designed to create new schools, approximately $1.17 billion in federal funding has likely been spent on charters that either never opened, or that opened and have since shut down.

In addition, of the 13 Charter School programs that are recipients of this latest round of Department of Education’s Charter School Program (CSP), some of them have ties to the DeVos network, while others have been charged with misuse of funds.

For instance, IDEA Public Schools, which is based in Texas, will be receiving $8.1 million from the federal government. According to an article from Education Week, the IDEA charter school network, a recipient of federal charter grants, has spent money on pro basketball tickets and said they were planning to lease a private jet.

A second example, Achievement First, Inc., which will receive $3.5 million, has had issues around racism. According to a recent article in Forbes

Achievement First, Inc of Connecticut was in the news a year ago when events at one school forced management to take a hard look at its handling of racism, discipline and leadership. AF hired independent investigators, made personnel changes, and by fall of 2019 expressed a commitment to a culture change.

A third example is Mater Academy, Inc, which will be receiving $19.2 million, has come under a great deal of scrutiny, much like many of the private and charter schools in Florida, where Mater Academy, Inc. is based. According to a 2019 Washington Post article, Mater Academy Inc, was being audited. The Office of Inspector General, writes the Post reporter: 

OIG’s audit of the two Mater charter schools identified related party transactions between the for-profit Academica and a real estate company that leased both buildings and security services to the schools.

One last example is Responsive Education Solutions, which will receive $14 million of public money for their charter schools. Responsive Education Solutions runs Charter Schools in several states and these schools are run through a partnership with the ultra-conservative Michigan school, Hillsdale College

Even though $65 million is a small amount of money in the larger scheme of things, those who are concerned about accountability and the larger war on public education, this new announcement from Betsy DeVos should be of great concern to us all.

To join the fight for public education in Grand Rapids, go to Grand Rapids for Education Justice.

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