Jeff Bryant was co-author, with NPE executive director Carol Burris, of the report “Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride.” In this post, he asks why the U.S. Department of Education can’t answer three straightforward questions. 

The DeVos Department of Education stonewalled his questions, giving no answers.

This non-response, he notes, was not unique to DeVos. Arne Duncan’s ED was equally non-responsive when questioned by previous researchers in search of answers in 2015.

Bryant wanted to know whether the Department had made any changes following the report of the Center for Media and Democracy, which had also criticized the non-existent standards used when judging applications for federal funding of charter schools.

So he asked these questions on March 8:

This is to inquire about the current grant application review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities. Specifically, in 2015, the Department published an “Overview of the 2015 CSP SEA Review Process.” My questions:

  1. Can you provide a similar document describing how the grant review process is currently being conducted for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities?
  2. If not, can you briefly comment on how the grant review process used for the Charter Schools Program Grants to State Entities aligns with or varies from the Overview referenced above?
  3. Regarding a “Dear Colleague”letter sent to State Education Agencies in 2015 emphasizing the importance of financial accountability for charter schools receiving federal dollars, was there any follow-up by the Charter School Program to ascertain how many SEAs complied with this request and what was the nature of the new systems and processes put into place by SEAs to provide for greater accountability?

He got a voicemail from a communications officer and returned her call. She chastised him and told him he was creating “havoc” among the staff.

The NPE report that Bryant co-authored appeared at the same time that members of the House Appropriations Committee were grilling Secretary DeVos about her budget proposals, which included steep cuts in many programs but an increase for the scandal-ridden Charter Schools Program.

Bryant recounts what happened at the hearings:

When Representative Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Wisconsin, asked DeVos what was being done to recover the $1 billion in alleged financial mismanagement involving charters, DeVos said she “would look into the matter.”

On the issue of how a federal agency could allow charter operators to rip off American taxpayers with impunity, and generally suffer no adverse consequences for their acts, DeVos acknowledged that waste and fraud in the charter grant program had been around for “some time.”

That much is true.

It was under Arne Duncan’s watch that the federal charter grants program was greatly expanded, states were required to lift caps on the numbers of charter schools in order to receive precious federal dollars, and the administration Duncan served in insulted public school teachers by proclaiming National Charter School Week on dates identical to what had always been observed as Teacher Appreciation Week.

And most of the wanton charter fraud we detailed in our report that ran rampant during the Duncan years is now simply continuing under DeVos, with little to no explanation of why this is allowed to occur.

Isn’t it interesting how the U.S. Department of Education demands accountability from schools and districts and states, but provides no accountability whatever for its own incompetence.