The Network for Public Education recently released its second report on the federal Charter Schools Program, and the results are not pretty. It is titled Still Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Results in a Pileup of Fraud and Waste.

The report has received national coverage, in newspapers large and small.

The CSP was created in 1994 as part of the Clinton administration’s effort to spur innovation; at the time, there were only a few hundred charters. The CSP was intended to give struggling startups a financial boost. It was never intended to be a cushion for large, well-funded corporate charter chains, as it is today. The NPE review covers the years from 2006-2014 because no records were maintained by the U.S. Department of Education for the grants awarded from 1995-2005. (Unbelievable but true.) The current Department of Education kept the records for the years from 2015-2018 under wraps and released them only days before this report was published. In time, we will analyze them too, to see whether the track record of the CSP has improved. We expect to find large grants to corporate charter chains; large grants to charter advocacy groups; and large grants to states that neither sought nor needed additional charter schools (New Hampshire is a case in point; DeVos gave NH $46 million to double the number of charters in the state, and the legislative fiscal oversight committee reviewed the grant and rejected it after determining that it would endanger the state’s public schools, especially at a time when school enrollments are dropping. The state board of education in Michigan sought to reject a charter grant from CSP but the state attorney general ruled that the state must take the money whether the state board wants it or not. We will see how that turns out.)

To prepare this report, NPE staff pored over the federal data for each state. They found that 37% of the charter schools that won CSP funding either never opened or closed soon after opening. Fully 11% of the federally funded charters never opened at all. Of the schools funded between 2006 and 2014, $504 million was wasted on these failed charters. That is 28% of the total awarded. Applying that percentage to the total expenditures ($4.1 billion) during the 25-year life of this federal program, we estimate that about $1.17 billion in federal funds were wasted on charters that either never opened or opened and then closed.

Based on the findings of this report, NPE recommends that Congress terminate all new grants for this program, which we have shown to be wasteful. Numerous private foundations, such as the Walton Family Foundation, provide ample private funding for new charters and charter expansion. Federal aid is not needed, and when available, is misspent. Congress should continue to fund only the grants awarded to legitimate projects. Once those grants have been closed, we recommend that CSP be terminated, and that existing charter schools continue to receive federal aid through the customary programs such as Title 1 and IDEA. As the report concludes, “students, not charter school entrepreneurs, should benefit from federal funds.”

There has been much chatter on Twitter about who funded this report. Here is the answer: It was funded by the many small contributions of thousands of supporters of the Network for Public Education. It was written by NPE Executive Director Carol Burris, with research assistance by Darcie Cimarusti and Marla Kilfoyle. They are the hard-working, amazing staff of the Network for Public Education.

See the summary here.

See the full report here.