Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud, and Abuse -the Federal Billion Dollar Heist by Mica Maynard
With the great promise of taxpayer funded Charter schools coming to Alamogordo it is important for taxpayers to learn the facts of the "great charter school heist" that engulfed the Federal government and can be felt at home in New Mexico. With those touting the idea of charter schools suggesting there are millions available locally. Be skeptical, ask questions and verify the facts and the sources of those millions.
The growth of the charter industry has been astronomic. Charter enrollment has doubled three times since 2000; it doubled from 2000 to 2004, and again from 2004 to 2008, and again from 2008 to 2014. Just last year, over 600 new charter schools opened, and an estimated 288,000 additional students enrolled in charter schools. Per publiccharters.org, public charter schools currently serve 3.7 million students in 8,000 schools and campuses. During the 2021-22 school year, charter schools enrolled 7.4% of all public-school students, up from 6.8% in 2019-20. Since the 2005-06 school year, the number of charter schools and campuses has more than doubled, and charter school enrollment has more than tripled.
Although the charter sector continues to grow steadily, the growth rate for both schools and students began to slow during the 2015-16 school year, except for the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years.
Per publiccharters.org, At the end of the 2020-21 school year, 118 schools had closed for a closure rate of 1.5%. Over the last decade, the average rate of charter school closures per year is 4%. During this period, only 5% of new schools closed in their first year of operation, typically because of facility issues or low enrollment, 69% of recent closures accounted for, the main reasons for school closings are low academic performance, low enrollment, or financial issues, which are usually closely related to enrollment.
In New Mexico last year the state saw 2 openings and no closures with 30,160 students attending a public charter program.
As the charter sector grows far faster than originally envisioned, the risks are high and growing, while the benefits are less clear. Even pro-charter organizations like the Center on Reinventing Public Education recognize that the regulatory foundation upon which the charter industry was built began from a place of insufficiency. In their analysis of charter oversight law, they found that “only minimal attention was paid to the question of how to oversee these new schools; frequently governments delegated charter school authorization as a side task to offices already burdened with other activities.”
In research by the Center for Popular Democracy and Education it was revealed that charter operator fraud and mismanagement is endemic to the vast majority of states that have passed a charter school law. Drawing upon court cases, media investigations, regulatory findings, audits, and other sources, this report contains a significant portion of known fraud and mismanagement cases. The cost at the Federal level reported to the Trump administration was over $1 Billion dollars and growing.
Less prevalent, but perhaps more concerning than the other mismanagement we found, were a number of cases where children were put in potential or actual danger due to charter operator mismanagement. Many of the cases involved charter schools neglecting to ensure a safe environment for their students. For example, Ohio’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Richard A. Ross, was forced to shut down two charter schools, The Talented Tenth Leadership Academy for Boys Charter School and The Talented Tenth Leadership Academy for Girls Charter School, because, according to Ross, “They did not ensure the safety of the students, they did not adequately feed the students, they did not accurately track the students and they were not educating the students well. It is unacceptable and intolerable that a sponsor and school would do such a poor job. It is an educational travesty."
In a report the Network for Public Education’s two-month examination of the U.S. Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP) investigation found a troubling pattern of insufficient applicant review, contradictions between information provided by applicants and available public data, the gifting of funds to schools with inadequate financial and governance plans, a push-out of large grants to the states with little supervision by the department, and the waste of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
By comparing claims made by charter grant applicants to information on state databases and school websites, we found numerous examples of federal tax dollars being misspent due to an inattentive process that routinely accepts applicants’ claims without scrutiny.
We found that it is likely that more than one third of all charter schools receiving CSP grants never opened or opened and shut down.
In New Mexico Ninety-three of New Mexico charter schools were awarded grants from money that came from the federal charter schools' program between. At this time, at least 30 (32%)
of those charter schools were closed or never opened at all.
The Charter Schools Program currently gives around $440 million to state departments of education and charter management organizations in part to help them launch new charter schools. There are several different kinds of grants under the program, but the report focused on the expansion and seed money grants that go directly to charter schools or to states to allocate to charter schools and what happened to that money.
Charter schools emerged three decades ago, in part out of concerns that some students, particularly in urban areas, needed more flexible alternatives to the rigidity of the traditional public-school model for instruction. These schools combine state funding and oftentimes philanthropic support to run their programs. Many have open enrollment policies similar to public schools, though some admit students through lotteries with is the rule of law in New Mexico for fair access.
While there are benefits to the charter movement, we must be careful and skeptical of advocates pushing for the charter concept and ask lots of questions to ensure long-term sustainability of the charter system so that it does not end up in the same conundrum as the present APS system finds itself in.
When advocates claim the charter system is overseen by the NMPED so there is "nothing to worry about" be wary! That is the very same oversight or lack thereof per proponents of the charter system is what got APS into the situation it is in today. What makes anyone believe their oversight of charters would be any better than the traditional intuitions?
- Mica Maynard Reports
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