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Did you know that the United States Treasury is the single biggest founder of charter schools? In 1994, when there were only a small number of charter schools, the Clinton Administration started the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP) to help new startups get off the ground. The program offered only a few million dollars. At the time, no one gave much thought to the prospect of large corporate chains or charters displacing public schools. Today, the CSP hands out $440 million each year. Most of the money goes to big chains like KIPP and IDEA. Some states get $40-50 million for charter schools even though the states didn’t ask for the money.
Jan Resseger writes here that it’s time to end the CSP. The original idea was that a small amount of federal money would stimulate innovation and accountability. Nearly three decades later, we have learned that public financing of private contractors has not produced innovation, that the contractors fight accountability, and that the charter sector is marred by scandals and corruption. As the Network forPublic Education showed in its reports—Asleep at the Wheel and Still Asleep at the Wheel—nearly 40% of the federally funded charters either never opened or closed soon after opening. This waste, fraud, and abuse are the result of not only a lack of public oversight, but the result of private contractors financing state legislators.
Charter schools originated in the early 1990s, and now, nearly three decades later as the charter school sector has matured, we discover what might have been predicted in an education sector paid for with public tax dollars but at the same time operated privately with little oversight. The Network for Public Education has set up a web page to track the hundreds of scandals reported year after year across the United States in local newspapers.
She goes on to describe recent scandals, which barely scratch the surface of the systemic waste and misuse of public funds that should have been paid for instructional purposes but were deposited in private bank accounts. She doesn’t mention the most historic scandal in the charter sector: the theft of at least $200 million by entrepreneurs in California who ran a virtual charter school with phantom students and who pleaded guilty only a few months ago.
Considering that the charter industry is already richly endowed by billionaires like Betsy DeVos, the Walton Family Foundation, Charles Koch, Reed Hastings, and Bill Gates, and substantial corporate support, no federal subsidy is needed.