More than 35% of charter schools funded by the federal Charter School Program between 2006 and 2014 either never opened or were shut down, costing taxpayers more than half a billion dollars, according to a new report from an advocacy group that reviewed records of nearly 5,000 schools. The state with the most charter schools that never opened was Michigan, home to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
The report, titled “Still Asleep at the Wheel,” said that 537 “ghost schools” never opened but received a total of more than $45.5 million in federal startup funding. That was more than 11% of all of the schools that received funding from the Charter School Program (CSP), which began giving grants in 1995.
In Michigan, where the billionaire DeVos has been instrumental over several decades in creating a charter school sector, 72 charters that received CSP money never opened, at a total cost of some $7.7 million from 2006 to 2014. California was second, with 61 schools that failed to open but collectively received $8.36 million.
The Education Department did not respond to a query about the findings. DeVos has made expanding alternatives to school districts — including charters and programs that use public money for private and religious school — her top priority as education secretary, and has said that her metric for a state’s education success is how much they expand school “choice.”
Casandra Ulbrich, president of the Michigan State Board of Education, said in 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 co-founded 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 that 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.