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The IDEA charter chain in Texas was one of Betsy DeVos’s favorite grantees. She handed over $200 million from the federal Charter Schools Program to IDEA to spur its expansion. With so much money, the management of IDEA indulged in luxuries. They planned to lease a private jet for $2 million a year but backed off because of adverse publicity. They bought season box seats at the San Antonio Spurs basketball games. When the founder resigned, he was given a $1 million golden parachute.
But the IDEA spending spree didn’t end there. The board of the charter chain received a whistleblower’s letter and commissioned an independent audit of its finances. When the audit was completed, the board fired the chief executive officer and the chief operating officer. Go to this link to read the board’s letter to the public and its recognition of the leadership’s corruption.
This scandal goes to the heart of the basic lie behind the charter industry: their lobbyists have waged bitter fights against transparency and accountability. They have sold the lie that private entrepreneurs should get millions and millions of public dollars without oversight. “Trust us,” they said. They lied.
In state after state, charter schools do not get better test scores than public schools, unless they choose their students carefully and kick out the ones they don’t want.
The IDEA scandal should bring renewed scrutiny to the federal Charter Schools Program, which currently receives $440 million a year. As the Network for Public Education documented in two reports (see here and here), about 37% of the federally-funded charter schools either never opened or close within a few years. There is now a campaign in Congress, led by the charter lobby, to increase its funding from $440 million to $500 million per year.
Let’s be clear: the charter school industry is amply funded by billionaires, mostly hedge fund managers as well as Silicon Valley titans and billionaires like Charles Koch and the Walton Family. It attracts the support of libertarians and right wingers who want to privatize public schools.
The federal Charter Schools Program should NOT be expanded. It should be eliminated.