Archives for category: Deregulation

Donald Cohen, executive director of “In the Public Interest” and author of The Privatization of Everything discovered an important insight about public attitudes. Many people assume that private business is invariably more efficient than the public sector. But, as he shows here, the private sector’s highest goal is profit, and the pursuit of profit leads to cost-cutting that is inefficient and actually, in the case of a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, dangerous.

Here is an excerpt:

Let’s dig into the basic “mathematics of efficiency.” It’s about spending or doing less to get the same or better (cost/time + efficiency = same or better.) In that formula, “efficiency” could either be “smarter” or “cheaper.”

The problem is that far too often it equals cheaper. Efficiency could mean fewer workers than are needed to ensure high quality or safe production on the shop floor. Efficiency could mean lower wage workers. Efficiency could be using lower-quality supplies and equipment. And sometimes, efficiency means fewer inspectors and less monitoring of safety protocols.

Sometimes “same or better” means outsized profits, expensive stock buybacks, high-dividend payments, and high executive compensation packages–in other words, the fruits of high productivity built upon a package of “efficiencies.”

So, I’ve come up with a new term. When efficiency means cutting corners for increased profits, we should call it: “Extractive Efficiency.”

That’s what happened in East Palestine and could happen again if the underlying extractive efficiency isn’t dealt with. In fact, over the last few years, all the railroad companies have focused on efficiency to increase profits, cheering Wall Street, but not the residents of East Palestine. Less than two weeks before the derailment, it was reported that Norfolk Southern, the train operator, had improved the average speed of its trains from 17.5 miles per hour to 20.7 between the second and fourth quarter of 2022, and by January was at 22.2 miles per hour.

Here are a few of Norfolk Southern’s “efficiencies.”

Fewer workers: Norfolk Southern removed a senior type of inspector from the track division that runs through East Palestine, making more work for signal maintainers. Over the past five years, employment among the nation’s largest freight rail carriers has fallen about 18 percent. With fewer workers doing more work, they may miss telltale signs of safety failures.

Harder work and more hours per worker: The industry, including Norfolk Southern, implemented “Precision Scheduled Railroading” that, according to The American Prospect“means no excess engines, no track not under constant use, no downtime in the yards, no employees not busy driving the trains or maintaining the tracks, and never have three one-mile-long trains when one three-mile-long train can be assembled.” Shockingly, railroad workers get no paid sick days.

The people who live near the derailment are paying the price of Norfolk Southern’s “efficiencies.” They will be dealing with the consequences of the toxic spill for years to come, affecting their health, the value of their homes, and the quality of their water.

But the railroad is returning handsome profits to its top executives and shareholders.

Mercedes Schneider tries a thought experiment. Is it possible to create a universal education voucher that is “seamless” and reduces the role of government?

Imagine a state with one million students, each given a sum of money to spend on their education. Simple, right?


As she demonstrates, such a program will require a massive bureaucracy to administer. Unless the public doesn’t care where the money goes, whether it was wasted or stolen.

She begins:

The idea of taxpayer funding for K12 education following the student– “funding portability”– is not new. Following the COVID pandemic and the closing of schools (or following a virtual model that taxed family functioning and internet capabilities) has contributed to a rise in public willingness to consider funding portability. Conservative organizations like the Reason Foundation are ready to offer suggestions on how to institute universal funding portability “and ensure funds flow seamlessly across district boundaries.”

As I read the Reason article linked above, my first thought was on how it would require a monstrous bureaucracy to administer and track funding sent directly to the parents/guardians of each student. This cannot be understated. Consider the mess it would be, say, if the funding went to an old bank account, or wrong bank account. Consider the bureaucratic mess it would present if a child transferred schools at an inconvenient time. So many bank accounts to keep straight. So many payments or partial payments to track to parent from state, or from parent to correct school. Not just any school– the school at which student attendance has been verified.

Now think of this on the level of hundreds or thousands or hundreds of thousands of students.

In order for the transfer of funds to proceed “seamlessly” (Reason’s word), it would entail rules and guidelines, and accountability departments and scheduled, incremental payments, and stop-payment procedures for the school the student no longer attended. It would mean an established appeals process when money was sent to the wrong school, or in the name of the wrong child even in the same household (say, if several children attend different schools, even in different counties or states).

I haven’t even mentioned the bureaucracy needed to to both combat and confront acts of fraud committed by those disbursing and receiving funds.

Universal funding portability would also mean school and district budgets being thrown into chaos because money supposed to arrive one child at a time doesn’t just show up like idyllic magic.

None of this is smooth, and none of this is easy, and none of this is wondrously seamless.

Please open the link and read on.

The following parody was written by Sara Stevenson, a retired middle school teacher and librarian in Austin, Texas. She usually writes about the dangers of vouchers, but here she takes a new tack. She calls it “My Modest Proposal.”

She writes:

Randan Steinhauser of Young Americans for Liberty at the February 16 Texas Tribune Panel on School Choice:

“… things the Texas Association of School Boards or other entities are proposing, such as gender pronouns, or Marxist curriculum, there are things that are happening that are causing parents to react… (Laughter)”

After attending the above panel discussion, I read the following excellent parody from master teacher, Liz Meitl, in Kansas. I wished I’d thought of something so clever, so with full credit to Liz, I’ve written my own parody, Texas style.

As a former Texas educator, I read with interest Mayes Middleton’s (R Galveston) 33-page S.B. 176, which outlines the Texas Parent Empowerment Program, offering an ESA (Educational Savings Accounts) of $10,000 of taxpayer money for parents to pay towards tuition to any private or religious school. At a recent Texas Tribune panel on School Choice, Randan Steinhauser’s words (above) resonated so strongly that I’ve made an important decision about my future.

I am the new founder of Austin Marxist Academy. Surely, in what my dad called “The People’s Republic of Austin,” I can find 15 students willing to join my micro-school academy. At $10,000 per student, I can make $150,000 a year.

As a public school teacher with 25 years of experience and a Masters degree, the most I ever made was $55,000. This will almost triple what I made before. And to think of all the poor suckers at my former middle school who still have to teach six classes a day with up to thirty kids per class for a total 180 vs my 15.

Furthermore, I’m elated at all the things I won’t have to do or worry about. No state curriculum, TEKS, to follow; no benchmarks or STAAR tests; no discipline problems or ARDs because I don’t have to accept those students. And if any Special Ed students decide to enroll, I won’t have to follow any accommodations or services required by federal and state law because, upon accepting an ESA, students waive those rights under IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act) passed in 1975.

As a former librarian, I’m so happy to provide my students with any “pornographic” books they might want to read. Governor Abbott proposes School Choice as a way for parents to escape their children’s “indoctrination” in public schools, but I will be completely free, as will all other private and religious schools, including madrasas, to indoctrinate all I want.

At some point I’ll have to seek some kind of accreditation, but there are so many ways to go about it, and on average, the process takes at least three years. Plus, I’m certain after Texas gives tax breaks to the 305,000 children who already attend private schools, the state will have $3 billion fewer dollars to spend on any oversight of all the new schools popping up in strip malls to take the people’s money.

I’m just so excited to finally be free of all the rules, regulations, and scrutiny of working in a public school. No differentiating lessons or accommodating students with learning differences. I won’t even have to give grades if I don’t want to. And the repetitive, poorly-written pledge of allegiance to the Texas flag we’re required to recite every day? No more.

Come to think of it, S.B. 176 makes no mention of required classroom hours, so my school could just meet half days and take Fridays off. And since I won’t be subjected to the scrutiny of daily attendance measures, upon which per student allotment in Texas public schools is based, my students don’t even have to show up.

I’m so thankful to Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, and state Senator Mayes Middleton for prioritizing the Texas Parent Empowerment Program. I can’t wait to put into practice the (slightly revised) Texas TEACHER Empowerment Program. I can be free to discriminate at last.

The first charter school opened in 1991. Since then, charters have expanded exponentially. There are now more than 7,000 of them. Originally, charters had bipartisan support.

Bill Clinton loved the charter idea and created the federal Charter Schools Program to fund new charter schools, a modest expenditure of $6 million a year (that has since ballooned into $440 million a year, most of which has gone to grow big, wealthy charter chains).

President Barack Obama also loved charter schools , as did his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. When Congress pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy to stave off an economic collapse in 2009, it allocated $100 for schools. $95 billion went to public schools. $5 billion was set aside for the U.S. Department of Education to use as it wished for “education reform.”

Secretary Duncan, aided by helpers from the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation, launched a competition among the states to win a share of $4.35 billion. But the states’ eligibility to participate in Race to the Top depended on their complying with certain demands: the states had to agree to open more charter schools, to evaluate their teachers by the test scores of their students, to restructure or close schools with low test scores, to adopt national standards (I.e., the Common Core, not yet finished, never tested).

Race to the Top gave a huge boost to charter schools.

But reality intruded. Large numbers of new charters opened. Large numbers of charters closed, replaced soon by others. Charter scandals proliferated. Get-rich-quick entrepreneurs opened charter schools; grifters opened charter schools. Some charter leaders paid themselves more than big-city superintendents. Highly successful (I.e. high test scores) charters carefully curated their students, rejecting or removing those who had low scores, excluding students with disabilities.

The charter sector began to act like an industry, with its own lobbyists in D.C. and in state capitols. Sometimes the charter lobbyists wrote state legislation to assure that there was little or no accountability or oversight or transparency Fort the public funds they received.

Of course, the charter lobby maintained a strong public relations presence, booking appearances for their paid spokespeople on national TV and in the press. When state legislatures met to vote in the budget, the charters hired buses to bring thousands of students and parents to demand more money and more charters. They were coached to use the right words about the success of charters.

Since charters have been around for more than 30 years, the research on them is consistent. Their test scores, on average, are about the same as regular schools, even though they have much more flexibility. Some get high scores (typically the ones with high attrition rates who got rid of the students they didn’t want), some got very low scores. Most were in the middle. The Cybercharters were the worst by every measure: low graduation rates, poor academics, high teacher turnover, expensive for the low quality but very profitable.

Were they innovative? No. Those considered “successful” operated with 19th century modes of strict discipline. Some substituted computers for teachers.

Charters fell under a cloud when Donald Trump became President and sooointed choice zealot Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education. She plugged vouchers and charters and choice. Most Democrats in Congress began to open their eyes and understand that charters were a prelude to vouchers. DeVos’s strident advocacy for charters made most Democrats remember their party’s historic legacy as a champion of public schools, real public schools , not privately managed schools that were Public in Name Only.

So, where stands the charter idea now? Charters are admired and thriving (at least financially, if not academically) in red states. Most Democrats understand that the preservation and improvement of public schools is central to the party’s identity.

A reader of the blog came up with a sensible redefinition of the mission of charter schools. Since they have the freedom to try out new ideas, they should serve the neediest children. They should do whatever it takes—not to raise their test scores—but to educate the children who have struggled in regular schools. Let the charters innovate—their original mission—free of the burden of being labeled “failing” or “low performing.” Let them work their magic for the children who need it most, not for the high achievers who would succeed in any school.

Greg R. Flick, a reader of the blog and himself a blogger (“What’s Gneiss for Education”)) sent this perceptive comment about what charters should do to be truly useful to American education and to provide an exemplary service:

It seems that if we believe the narrative the charters push, we should flip the system on its ear. Let the charters be the default schools for the kids who can’t function in the public schools. Let’s have the public schools be able to cream their student populations, select only the students they want to have…the “easier” students, and have the charters be required to take those kids kicked out of the public schools.

Charters with their smaller classes and “freedom” to innovate will finally be able to help those kinds of kids. And since they are public schools (as they keep on telling us repeatedly) they can’t gripe about taking in the hard nuts, the Special ed kids, the ones with behavioral issues, etc.

Stephen J. Klees is Distinguished Scholar-Teacher and Professor of International Education Policy at the University of Maryland. Klees recently gave a talk at the Comparative and International Education Society’s (CIES) annual meeting in Washington D.C.. He considers the privatization of education to be a juggernaut of patriarchal racial neoliberal capitalism. Dr. Klees shared his talk with me.

Privatization is a scourge. Basic services should be public, publicly owned and run. It is not a question of effectiveness or costs. Privatized basic services are inequitable and violate human rights.

In education, the advent of neoliberalism in the 1980s drastically changed the narrative. Before neoliberalism, it was generally believed that basic education (primary and secondary) should usually be provided by governments, with private schooling mostly the preserve of the wealthy and religious schools. The changed narrative brought by neoliberalism no longer asked whether privatization was necessary; instead, it asked when and how should we privatize? This assault on public sector motivations, competence, and budgets happened almost overnight – due completely to ideology, there was no evidence for this shift.

This shift has led to the massive expansion of private schooling around the world, most especially in developing countries, with critics fighting a rear-guard action against this juggernaut. The fight has given us efforts like the work of PEHRCand others that led to the Abidjan Principles, Education International’s Global Response campaign, high-level reports by UN Special Rapporteurs, as well as groups in most countries challenging the privatization of education. Have all these efforts slowed the juggernaut? Perhaps, but not noticeably. Have they changed the narrative? Perhaps some, but certainly not enough.

Critical researchers have responded to the slew of studies by privatization advocates pointing out their ideological biases and methodological flaws and pointing to contrary evidence. While we critics must respond to the advocates, to me, all this research is in many ways a waste of time and money. In terms of the narrow measurement of “learning,” embodied in test scores in a few subjects, the conclusion is what we all know – with similar students, sometimes private schools perform a little better, sometimes public schools do, and often there are no important differences. The other conclusion, hardly challenged by the right, is that privatization, even with low-cost private schools, further stratifies the system exacerbating inequality. But has this critical research changed the narrative or slowed the juggernaut? Perhaps a little, but far from enough.

What can slow or stop the juggernaut and change the story? I see more hope in increased mobilization across sectors. In 2019, there was a conference in Amsterdam that brought together public service advocates and this past December an even bigger one in Santiago, Chile that had over a thousand representatives from over one hundred countries fighting for public services in education, health, water, energy, housing, food, transportation, social protection, and care sectors. The Global Manifesto produced prior to the meeting and the Santiago Declaration produced after are marvelous documents with excellent analyses of the problem and principles for universal quality public services that will hopefully serve as a rallying cry for cross-sector mobilization by civil society and social movements around the world. The argument that there is not enough money to fund needed public services is simply a refusal to change priorities and tax those who are well-off.

However, the underlying reason we don’t have essential basic public services – the big picture – are the structures of patriarchal racial neoliberal capitalism. Neoliberalism exalts the market, but what does this mean? The market is a euphemism. It means the private sector should basically run the world. Critics of capitalism are accused of believing in a conspiracy by the rich and powerful; the critics response is there is no need for conspiracy. The reproduction of poverty and inequality, environmental destruction, racism, sexism, and more are built into the very structures that surround us.

Yet let’s not dismiss conspiracies too soon. What is the World Economic Forum but the rich and powerful getting together to set an agenda for the world? How many have heard of the Trilateral Commission? It’s the same people as the WEF getting together without much publicity each year to do the same. The WEF has been pushing its 2010 Global Redesign Initiative which essentially wants to turn the UN itself into a giant PPP – with quite a bit of success. These patriarchal racial capitalist institutions, run essentially by rich white men, may not have bad intentions but they are deluded into the self-interest of believing that all we need are win-win solutions to reform current polices, supposedly for everyone – without, of course, changing any of the structures that maintain their wealth and power.

We will not stop or reverse the privatization of education juggernaut without system change. Under patriarchal racial capitalism, especially the neoliberal version, privatization is the solution to most of our ills. But business leaders are singularly unqualified to deal with education or other social problems that have no simple bottom line (like profits) and whose real solution may threaten their dominance and power. While system change is very difficult, there are many groups, organizations, and movements around the world working on exactly that. The Santiago Declaration explicitly recognizes that the battle for public services means we need to “move away from the racial, patriarchal, and colonial patterns of capitalism and towards socio-economic justice, ecological sustainability, human rights, and public services.”

In what kind of world is it considered legitimate to charge the poorest for basic services? The answer is in a patriarchal, racist, capitalist world. I hope and believe that future generations will look back in horror at the fundamentally uncivilized nature of today’s world.

Writing in The Progressive, Carol Burris raised an important question: Where are the 1.3 million children who didn’t return to school after schools reopened? Burris is the executive director of the Network for Public Education.

As she points out, the lobbyists for the privatizers claim that they must be in charter schools or voucher schools, but Burris shows this is not accurate. Some may be homeschooled; but the data on the number of children being homeschooled is inadequate to know how many children are being tutored at home.

Burris writes:

Between the fall of 2019 and 2021, 1.3 million children left the American public school system, according toEducation Week. For those who care about the welfare of children, this sharp decline is worrisome. We know that enrollment declineswere the steepest in large cities, where our neediest students reside and where COVID-19 was more devastating.

How many have dropped out, working in the underground economy or languishing at home without schooling? The honest answer is that there is no comprehensive accounting of where (or if) all of those 1.3 million children are now being schooled.

However, what should be a national concern centered on the welfare of children has instead become promotional material for those who wish to eliminate public schools. The libertarian right and its allies, including the Center for Education Reform, have chalked up the decline to a story of unhappy public school parents exercising school choice. But is it?

According to a 2020 report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (NAPCS), “hundreds of thousands of families switched to charter schools during the first full school year of the pandemic.” On the surface, that is correct. But the report avoids the elephant in the room—the kinds of charter schools that gained enrollment during this period.

The 2020 charter enrollment spike that NAPCS reported was largely due to increased enrollment in low-quality online charter schools, as I detailed in an analysis for The Washington Post. Enrollment in these schools increased by 175,260 students during the 2020-2021 school year, representing more than 70 percent of the NAPCS’s reported enrollment growth.

The increase in enrollment in online charter schools that occurred during the early years of the pandemic is part of a long-term trend. In 2013, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) started tracking the online school sector. In the pre-pandemic years, between 2013 and 2020, online schools accounted for 25 percent of charter enrollment growth, according to the center’s data.

In 2022, NAPCS published another report that presented a dizzying array of data, some of which contradicted the previous year’s report, to make the case that charters had retained the students they gained in the pandemic shift.

According to that report, in fall 2021, there were only 1,436 fewer students in charters compared to 33,308 fewer students in public schools than there were in fall 2020. The most recent NCES numbers tell a different story: According to that data, charter school enrollment dropped by 5,323 students in 2021, while public school enrollment increased by 83,323 students—small shifts but nevertheless important to note.

So, did charter school enrollment go up during the pandemic? Yes. Was this a seismic shift? No….

Leaders of the anti-public school movement promote bootleg homeschools and “micro-schools” as innovative alternatives to public schools, using declines in test scores as the rationale for abandoning the public system. Ironically, however, homeschoolers are not required to provide any evidence of student learning in most states. This includes Arizona, whose ESA voucher program is taxpayer-funded with no standards. Parents can awarda high school diploma based on any criteria they want. According to Ed Choice, the average Arizona ESA account value on January 17, 2023 exceeded $15,500 per year per student. (On January 18, the site updated that figure to $11,332.)

This is akin to an insurance company giving the parent of an ill child a payout to spend on a cure—with no stipulation that the parent goes to a licensed physician or that anyone reports back on the child’s health.

Certainly, there are responsible homeschoolers who have developed sound programs to educate and socialize their child. But without requirements to provide sound evidence of learning, a sudden spike in homeschooling should be a cause for alarm, not celebration.

While libertarian advocacy groups call for a “de-centralized network of schools,” to resemble what existed for American schooling in the nineteenth century, before Horace Mann, the truth is that before it became a universal system of “government funded and operated schools,” schooling in America was an uncoordinated, free-for-all that left most children undereducated, which is exactly where the contemporary school choice movement is headed.

Instead, what we should be concentrating on is locating those 1.3 million children and ensuring they are both educated and safe.

The U.S. General Accountability Office is a federal agency that reviews federal programs and informs Congress about problems and progress. The GAO is expected to be nonpartisan and highly competent.

But when the GAO was asked to report on the number of federally funded charter schools that closed or never opened, its count fell dramatically short, according to Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education. Burris was lead author of two reports that found that a large percentage of charter schools funded by the federal Charter Schools Program closed within their first five years or never opened at all. Read those reports here and here. Now she finds that the GAO is asleep at the wheel.

Burris wrote to the GAO to ask it to correct its findings. She gave specific examples of charter schools that disappeared, yet were counted by GAO as open. The agency stonewalled.

Why does this matter? The Department of Education issued new regulations for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), banning for-profit charters from receiving federal funding and requiring greater transparency. The charter lobby has vigorously resisted both demands. This week, friends of the charter lobby will attempt to overturn the new CSP regulations, enabling profiteers to continue to grab federal dollars and incompetent charter managers to do the same.

Carol Burris reported her efforts to correct the GAO report at Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” blog on the Washington Post.

Valerie Strauss wrote the introduction:

In October, the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) released a report titled “Charter Schools That Received Federal Funding to Open or Expand Were Generally Less Likely to Close Than Other Similar Charter Schools” in response to a congressional request. The report looked at data about the federal Charter School Program, which over several decades has awarded billions of dollars in grants for the expansion or opening of charters. These schools are publicly funded but privately operated, often with minimal or no oversight from a governmental agency. The GAO said in part:

“The Department of Education awards Charter Schools Program (CSP) grants to help open new charter schools or replicate and expand high-quality charter schools, among other things. While few charter schools closed overall, charter schools that received CSP awards closed at lower rates than similar charter schools that did not receive an award between fiscal years 2006 and 2020. GAO’s analysis found, for example, that within five years after receiving CSP awards, CSP-recipient charters schools were about 1.5 times less likely to close than similar non-CSP charter schools—with an estimated 1.4 percent and 2.3 percent closing, respectively. Within 12 years of receiving CSP grants, the same pattern generally held. The pattern also generally held for CSP-recipient charter schools regardless of the schools’ grade level, locale, student body racial and ethnic composition, or percentage of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch.”

This post, written by Carol Burris, an award-winning former New York high school principal and now executive director of the advocacy group called Network for Public Education, raises questions about the report, saying that the GAO “used outdated charter school status data as the basis of their descriptive analysis.” She explains below how she came to that conclusion.

Burris has written previously on the charter school program on this blog (for example, here and here), and in the following piece she takes issue with some of the GAO’s data and report results. The Network for Public Education is an alliance of organizations that advocates for the improvement of public education and sees charter schools as part of a movement to privatize public education.

The GAO denied that it used outdated data and said it stands by the report. It said that it needs “to use rigorous methodologies that are acceptable to social scientists and statisticians and can withstand scrutiny.” You can see its full response at the end of the piece.

The Department of Education was also asked for a comment and provided a short one that did not directly address the GAO report or Burris’s critique. It said in an email: “Our administration is committed to supporting high-quality public charter schools, as reflected in the president’s budget. And we’re committed to accountability, transparency and fiscal responsibility in the federal charter school program, as reflected in our regulations.”

Burris said her data shows significant undercounting by the GAO of charter schools that closed after receiving federal grants from the Charter School Program — either through state governments or from the Education Department. She said she shared her data with the GAO on numerous occasions.After repeated scandals in the charter school sector and negative fiscal impacts on public school districts from charter expansion, the Biden administration this year made changes to the Charter School Program in an effort to stop waste and fraud and bring more transparency to charter school operations.

In September, the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Inspector General released an audit of the nearly 30-year-old federal Charter School Programs that found, among other things, that charter school networks and for-profit charter management organizations did not open anywhere near the number of charters they promised to open with federal funding. Previous investigations by an education advocacy group, the Network for Public Education, which opposes the growth of charter schools, had found similar problems. (You can read my stories about their “Asleep at the Wheel” reports here and here.)

By Carol Burris

Congress last year directed the Government Accounting Office (GAO) to investigate the controversial federal Charter Schools Program (CSP), which was the subject of regulatory reform by the Biden administration this year. In a 2021 appropriations bill, the House Committee on Appropriation said:

“The Committee requests GAO to provide a report to the Committees on Appropriations on the Department’s oversight over CSP and whether the program is being implemented effectively among grantees and subgrantees. The report should include an analysis of CSP grant amounts over time that supported charter schools, with a particular focus on schools that eventually closed or received funds but never opened; the relationships between charter schools supported by CSP grants and charter management organizations; and an analysis of enrollment patterns at these schools, especially for students with disabilities. The report should examine ways to improve the Department’s oversight of CSP as well as make recommendations on potential legislative changes to the program that would reduce the potential for mismanagement and ineffective operations.

The GAO report published in October does not address all of Congress’s mandate to, and, according to my research conducted over several months, severely undercounts the number of closed CSP schools and the federal dollars spent on them. In addition, that error has a ripple effect on findings throughout the report. What follows explains what went wrong, and the facts that back up these conclusions.

GAO’s numbers don’t add up

The published report, which covered only a small part of the congressional investigatory request, examined three programs, which they refer to as (1) the State Educational Agencies/State Entities Awards, (2) the Charter Management Organizations (CMO) Awards, and (3) the Non-State Educational Agencies/Developers (Developers) Awards. The report contains a descriptive analysis of grants to schools that closed or never opened and a comparative probability analysis of grant recipients (new schools only) closing during their first 12 years. The comparative probability analysis, which became the headline for the report, was not part of the congressional request. Its findings are misinterpreted in the headline of the report.

This post, however, focuses on the requested descriptive analysis, which reported the present status (open, closed, future, will not open) of CSP awardee schools and how much was spent on those that never opened or closed. Its source was a data set given to the GAO by the U.S. Department of Education. That data set includes program information, school names, award years and amounts, identifying details, and a status for each grantee school — open, closed, opening in the future, will not open, or undetermined (as indicated by a blank) when their grant is complete.

In 2019, the department published a detailed data set of CSP awards, which you can find on the department’s website here. Most of that data set, specifically awards from 2006 through 2018, is a subset of the data set given to the GAO. The data set provided to the GAO also includes the 2019 and 2020 awards, however, we estimate that upward of 80 percent of the grantee information is in the public data set.

Let’s begin with a few examples of awardee schools and their status in the 2019 data set to understand why the report got it wrong.

Path Academy Charter School in Connecticut was a school that received a grant directly from the department. According to the 2019 data set, it received $585,800 in a three-year grant from 2013 to 2015. The data set reports the school’s status as open, but Path Academy closed in 2018 after the state discovered that the school and its charter management organization, Our Piece of the Pie, defrauded “the state of nearly $1.6 million, billing the state for 128 phantom students, operating unauthorized schools, and tolerating excessive absenteeism.”

Spirit Prep was a proposed “blended” school powered by the for-profit K12 (now Stride) online programs. It received a grant for over $186,000 in 2011 to plan for its opening. Although K12 announced in April of 2012 that Spirit Prep would open that fall, by July, the New Jersey Department of Education decided that the school would not open and denied its charter. In 2019, the department still had it listed as a “future” school with a note that it would open in 2012.

Tallulah Charter School, a Louisiana 2013 grantee, closed in 2017 following a cheating scandal. Its status is listed in the data set as open.

Hope Academy, a 2008-2010 grantee that received more than a half-million dollars, shut down in 2014 and was later sued by the state of Missouri for $3.7 million after “an audit found inflated attendance numbers.” Again, its CSP status was listed as open in 2019.

These are not isolated examples. They are representative of the hundreds of such cases that we found. Why do there appear to be so many errors?

The answer is that once the grant is finished (most end within three or fewer years), the department says it no longer checks to see if they are open. Therefore, the status of the school is frozen in time in the data set. A school open when the grant was complete may be shuttered today. The department requires that state entity, charter management organizations and developer grantees report twice a year on the operational status of all CPS-funded schools — but only for active and open grants.

This also explains why the Department of Education cautiously reports numbers of closed CSP schools using the term “closed prematurely.”

But the GAO did not check on the current status of schools, with the exception of the 189 schools that had no status in the data set. This is explained in Appendix I on pages 22 and 23 and was communicated to me in an email on Oct. 27 from GAO Assistant Director Sherri Doughty.

Recall that the GAO’s congressional mandate was “to report on CSP grants, with a particular focus on charter schools that eventually closed or never opened” (emphasis added). By accepting the department’s status in the majority of cases, it was using data that had not been updated in years, with the exception of 189 of 6,023 awards. Yet in the report, the GAO reports closures as current as of May 2022. Footnote 11 on page 11 says that the GAO defined “open” as currently open schools.

Despite my sending extensive file after file of correct information, their response was, “we stand by our report.”

Now, I will describe what they got wrong.

Extensive under-reporting of CSP awardee closures

For the Network for Public Education’s analysis, we used the public 2019 CSP data set, which is a subset of what the GAO received. The vast majority (exceeding 80 percent) of the CSP awards from 2006 forward are in the data set, which covers 13 of the 15 years examined by the GAO.
Using the procedure outlined below, NPE’s Marla Kilfoyle and I identified the extent to which the GAO underestimated the number of closed and never opened schools, which were the categories of interest to Congress.

  1. We isolated those awards in the 2019 data set made in 2006 and beyond, eliminating all awards made before 2006.
  2. For all charter school awards with an NCES number (91.2 percent of all awards), we checked the school status against the 2020-2021 Common Core of Data (CCD). We marked charter schools as closed if they were no longer listed in the CCD, or if they converted to public schools while retaining the same NCES number. If a charter remained a charter with the same NCES number but changed its name, that school was marked open. In some states, including California, we double-checked with the state database. [NCES numbers are the unique 12-digit school identifier found in the Common Core of Data of the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). We used the charter school filter in the CCD database to include awards that went to charter schools that closed as a charter and became public schools and to identify public schools that took CSP money but never converted to a charter school.]
  3. If a public school received an award to convert to a charter school but did not, we marked it as “will not open.” If schools were listed as future schools in the data set that ended in 2018 but could still not be found in the CCD, we checked outside sources and, if not found, marked it “will not open.”
  4. For the remaining 8.8 percent of schools, we accepted the school status as reported in the 2019 data set, knowing that would result in an underreporting of closed and never opened charter schools and an inflated number of open and future schools. We, therefore, erred on the side of caution.

Grantee closure

Let’s start with the smallest of the three programs, the Non-State Educational Agencies (SEA)/Developers awards, which I will refer to as non-SEA awards. These awards are given directly to charter schools by the Department of Education.

According to the GAO, the department gave out 235 non-SEA awards between 2006 and 2020. The 2019 data set, from 2006 on, contains 178 of those awards. According to Table 5 of the GAO report, only six went to schools that have closed, and four went to schools that never opened, resulting in a closure rate of 3 percent and a never-opened rate of 2 percent.

Using the CCD and additional outside sources to determine the status of schools, we found 29 — not 6 — schools that received a CSP award between 2006 and 2018 that had closed. Here we provide the names, date of grant, dates regarding the school’s closing, news stories about the closure, and other verification of closure.

Some charters closed due to low enrollment or poor test scores. Others closed, as confirmed by linked news stories, due to fraud.
We also identified 13 — not four — non-SEA grant schools that never opened between 2006 and May 2022.

Even if all of the 57 awards given after 2018 went to schools that opened and thrived (which is highly unlikely), closure rates would be 12.3 percent, and the never opened rate would be 5.5 percent of the non-SEA awardees, not 3 percent, and 2 percent.

SEA/SE grantee award closures and never-opened schools

The underreporting was even more dramatic when it came to the oldest and largest of the three CSP programs (SEA/SE).

According to the GAO, the CSP (SEA/SE) program gave 4,616 school awards totaling nearly $2 billion between 2006 and 2020. The 2019 data set identifies 4,351 SEA awards as sub-grants between 2006 and 2018. Almost all (3,992) have an NCES number associated with the school.

Within the data set, there is some duplication of schools. To catch those duplications, we identified and reported the number of unique closed or never opened schools. If we had reported by award, the number would be substantially higher. The GAO report is fuzzy in its tables and narrative, sometimes referring to schools and at other times to awards. It is possible for schools, especially longtime open schools, to receive more than one award; therefore, if the GAO counted awards, not schools, its “open school” number is inflated by more than error.

If the charter school did not have an NCES number in the data set, we again accepted the status listed by the department in 2019. As stated above, this likely results in an underreporting of closures.

GAO states in Table 2 that 429 SEA/SE awards went to now-closed charter schools—a number quite similar to the 2019 CSP data set non-updated number (409). However, we found that more than twice as many, 951 closed charter schools, received one or more awards. In addition, while the GAO reported that 209 schools never opened, we identified 230. These numbers do not include closed and unopened schools given grants after 2018. The total number is higher than what we report; it cannot go lower.

Note that we did not analyze the closures of charter schools that received Charter Management Organizations (CMO) awards since the department only required CMOs to report their schools beginning in 2012. The report lists 37 percent of that CSP CMO-grant funding going to “future schools.”

Our complete analysis is available upon request. It was sent to the GAO and the department along with a tool developed by data expert Ryan Pfleger that allows one to examine the history of schools by enrollment and status across the years of the CCD. I received an email acknowledgment and thank you from a representative of the Department of Education. I received no response from the GAO.

The CCD can be an imperfect source and may have generated minor errors in our final numbers. Nevertheless, it would have provided a far more accurate accounting of “schools that eventually closed” than the outdated status in the data set of the department they were asked to audit.

The ripple effect

The error described above directly affects the number of charter schools listed as open, closed, future, and will not open. It also affects the calculation of the total taxpayer dollars that have been wasted on CSP charter schools. For example, if more than twice the number of charter schools that received CSP grants closed, the GAO report’s estimation of $152 million spent on closed and never opened SEA/SE schools during those years is only capturing less than half of that cost since more funds went to closed schools than schools that never opened.

The state-specific numbers set forth on pages 13-15 of the report similarly need correction. Some of the states identified as the biggest wasters in the report’s Figure 15 may not deserve that identification. Other states may earn the dubious honor of being in the chart.

What now?

It is difficult to track charter school closures. Some schools close as charters and become public schools. We have seen schools switch between charter and public several times. At other times, a school shuts, and a new management organization takes it over. Sometimes the school’s name, staff, and students are different; sometimes not. Charter schools merge. In some states, information is easy to find; in others, information is obscure. It doesn’t have to be this way; states and the federal Charter School Program can demand better record-keeping and reporting.

The GAO’s descriptive analysis needs to be checked, verifying whether a school is currently open using the CCD. Claims regarding closed and open schools in their report need to be revised so that it is clear those are only closures during the active years of the grants. The stakes are even higher, however, for families. The closure of any school, whether public, charter, or private, is a painful and disruptive event in a child’s life. Families deserve honest information regarding closure risk when they enroll their children in a charter school. It is time for the GAO to revise its report to Congress and the public.


This is the response from the GAO:

“We need to use rigorous methodologies that are acceptable to social scientists and statisticians and can withstand scrutiny. Practically speaking, we cannot Google the status of 6,000 schools and call that proper research. When we spot checked some of what Ms. Burris cited, we came up with conflicting results. As with any methodology and any data set, ours had limitations and they were disclosed clearly in the report.

“In addition, GAO is an independent agency. We do work for Congress, but they do not dictate our research objectives, methodologies, or scope of work. GAO determined that the best way to meet Congress’s needs in this case was to conduct a descriptive analysis, which examines trends and relationships, and to pair that with a much more sophisticated model with rigorous controls in place. This was done to properly examine underlying issue at hand: the effectiveness of CSP awards. We laid out this approach to the relevant Congressional stakeholders prior to the work beginning, and they determined that it met their needs. And then it was laid out in our report as well.We know critics who do not like our message will cherry pick at different statistics. But the message is based on a sound analysis and we stand by it.”

Here is Burris’s response:

“The GAO used outdated charter school status data as the basis of their descriptive analysis. The use of that data was confirmed in an email sent to me by the GAO and in the appendix of the report. The rationale for not using the Common Core of Data rather than the data provided by the Department they were auditing was illogical, especially given that they used the Common Core of Data for what they referred to as their “more rigorous model.” The charter school status data they used is not updated once a grant is closed. This was confirmed in an email from a Department of Education spokesperson to Ms. Strauss. Therefore, when the GAO report states that its information is current as of May 2022, it is providing false information to both Congress and the public. One does not need to “google” schools. The GAO is well aware that this is not the methodology I used. If their spot check resulted in conflicting results, I invite them to send those examples to me.”

Steven Singer is a teacher in Pennsylvania and a blogger. In this post, he contends with the argument that some charter schools are really very good and not at all like those charters mired in scandal, unaccountable, inequitable, greedy, and a drain on public school resources.

Singer writes:

Not MY charter school!

That’s the usual reaction from charter school fansto any criticism of the industry.

I say many of these institutions lack accountabilityabout how tax dollars are spent…

Not MY charter school!

I say they waste millions of taxpayer dollars to duplicate services already in existence….

Not MY charter school!

I talk about frequent scandals where unscrupulous charter school operators use copious loopholes in state law to enrich themselves without providing services to parents, students and the community…

Not MY charter school!

I mention charter school lotteries, cherry-picking students, not providing adequate special education services, zero tolerance discipline policies, teaching to standardized tests, targeting black and brown kids for profit and feeding the school to prison pipeline….

Not MY charter school! Not MY charter school! Not MY…


If the industry is subject to this much malfeasance and corruption, doesn’t that reflect badly on the entire educational model – even the examples that avoid the worst of it?

One model has daily scandals. The other – authentic public schools – is far from perfect but relatively tame by comparison. You can’t blame people for generalizing.

Not My….

Okay. We get it!

But sadly this defensiveness against any criticism hides an enormous ignorance of exactly what charter schools are and how they operate at the most basic level.

Yes, there is a difference between how the best and worst charter schools act.

Yes, there are some charter schools that are run much better, more humanely and responsibly than others.

But that doesn’t mean the very concept of a charter school isn’t rotten to the core.

It’s like colonialism.

Yes, there were colonies where the invaders treated the conquered with more respect and dignity than others.

But not a single colony was a good thing. Not a single colonial enterprise avoided subjugating people who should have been free to determine their own destinies.

The same goes with charter schools.

When I discuss the industry, it’s surprising how many people – especially supporters of the enterprise – don’t understand what charter schools really are.

Let’s start with a simple definition.

A charter school is a school with a charter.

Get it?

And a charter is a contract – a special agreement with the state or some other governmental entity that this school can exist.

Why is that necessary?

Because there are rules laid out by each state in their school codes detailing what schools must do in order to qualify for taxpayer funding.

For example, under normal circumstances they must have an elected school board made up of members from the community where the school is located.

All authentic public schools must follow these rules. But not Charter schools.

Instead, they get to follow whatever rules are set down in their charter.

So without even examining exactly which special rules are stipulated in that charter, these schools are founded on the very concept of privilege.

They get to abide by their own rules tailor-made just for them.

Why does that matter? Because they get public funding.

And, yes, ALL charter schools are publicly funded – they get at least part of their money from taxpayers, usually all or the majority of their funding.

That opens a huge divide in accountability between types of schools….


Kevin Ward, a leader at the KIPP network of charter schools in D.C. killed himself after it was revealed that he stole $2.2 million from the schools’ account, allegedly to buy technology. He was also mayor of Hyattsville, Maryland. ,

A Maryland mayor who died by suicide this year had been accused of embezzling millions of dollars from one of the largest charter networks in the District, according to a complaint filed by federal prosecutors.

During his tenure as senior director of technology for KIPP DC, Kevin Ward used $2.2 million of school funds to purchase cars, a camper, sports memorabilia and property in West Virginia, prosecutors alleged in a civil forfeiture complaint filed Monday. Ward worked for the charter network from 2017 until at least July 2021, according to court records, two months after he was elected mayor of Hyattsville.

The payments, approved and arranged by Ward, were supposed to go toward laptops, tablets and other technology for children, prosecutors say. However, none of the products or services for which the school system paid were ever delivered, according to court records.

Officials at KIPP DC, which enrolls about 7,000 students across eight campuses in the District, said they found irregularities with certain technology purchases during a routine internal review in December. Leaders suspected fraud and contacted the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, which launched an investigation, the school said in a statement.

The school system also conducted its own review, led by outside counsel and a team of forensics accountants, which found “this was an isolated incident conducted by a single individual who took advantage of extraordinary circumstances during the pandemic and the individual’s role as head of technology.”

The lack of transparency and oversight in charter schools enables crimes.

Peter Greene writes here about Michael Petrilli’s reflections on the evolution of the “reform” movement. Now that the “reform” movement has merged with Christian nationalists, book banners, Proud Boys, neo-fascists, and other vicious haters of democracy, public schools, and academic freedom, there is much to reflect on. Unfortunately, that’s not the reflection we learn about here. Let me add that when I was a board member a dozen years ago at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, I formed a friendship with Mike Petrilli. I always hoped he would flip and join the public school side (his own kids are in fine public schools in Maryland). But a guy’s gotta make a living and the reformer world pays well. I’ve never given up hope for Mike.

Greene begins:

Mike Petrilli at the reformster-minded Thomas Fordham Institute has been taking a look at the current state of ed reform (apparently many of us are in that mood right now?) and it’s worth taking a look at what the guy in every education reporter’s rolodex thinks the state of ed reform is right now. And I promise what I think is an interesting observation at the end.

In “The Evolving Education Reform Agenda,” Petrilli starts with his previous argument that while the “Washington Consensus” is dead, ed reform itself is not. This hints at one of the challenges of the ed reform brand these days, which is that nobody really knows what the term actually means any more. He tries to address that in this piece.

Petrilli argues that the agenda has shifted (a more positive phrase than “we keep moving the goal posts”) from a focus on data and getting students to score proficient on state tests (circa NCLB) and then moved to trying to hold individual teachers responsible, a movement that Petrilli assess pretty frankly:

By the early 2010s, much of the conversation was about holding individual teachers accountable via test-informed teacher evaluations. Ham-handed implementation and poisonous politics led us to leave that misguided reform behind.

If only they had taken the policy with it, but its hammy hands are still felt by many teachers in many states. But one of ed reforms annoying features is that it never picks up after itself; it never puts as much energy into undoing its mistakes as it does into making them in the first place. Just imagine a world in which these thinky tank guys picked up the phone to call their contacts and say, “Look, that thing we convinced you to try? You’ve got to make people stop doing that.” Imagine if Bill Gates put the same kind of money into cleaning up his policy messes as he puts into pushing them.

Sigh. Anyway, Petrilli lists some other new-ish policy foci, like high quality instructional materials. He aptly notes that a new support for better school funding coincides with A) recognition by reformsters that funding does improve student outcomes and B) a desire to get charter and voucher schools more money (the old “choice gets it done more cheaply” talk is toast).

Parental choice? There’s still debate about using tax dollars to fund private and religious schools, particularly those that discriminate, says Petrilli, though I’ve missed the folks in the reformster camp arguing the anti-discrimination side. Unbundling is still a thing.

Testing and transparency? Reformsters still believe in the value of the Big Standardized Test, a point on which they remain resolutely and absolutely wrong, though they are now, he says, also interested in alternative assessments–but that’s still hung up on the obsession with test scores. Writes Petrilli, “How would assessments be different? If schools do well on “alternative measures” but not on test-score growth, then what? Should we ever consider such schools “good”?” I can help, Mike–the answer is “Yes.”

Greene goes on to explain that Petrilli thinks the new focus of reform must be to shift from policy to practice. This is an implicit admission that policy interventions have failed. Neither charters nor vouchers nor evaluation of teachers has been a successful. So now it’s time for reformers to change how teachers teach. But how can they do that when so few reformers have ever been teachers?

This is further complicated by the fact that the individual-to-individual practice end of the scale only happens if the individual has some credibility, and reformsters have always been hampered by their amateur status in education practice (I can think of exactly one who can legitimately claim classroom experience–and no, Temp For America doesn’t count), and that has been further hampered by their insistence that their amateur status actually made them wiser than the teachers who has actually spent their professional career in the classroom.

Greene thinks that reformers should listen to teachers, hire some.

But that won’t get to the root of the reformers’s dilemma. They are now in bed with rightwing fanatics who fought masks and vaccines, people who are racist and homophobic, people who ban books.

Their brand is spoiled.

The good news in this article is that the “Washington consensus” is dead. Democrats—with a few notable exceptions like Cory Booker and Michael Bennett of Colorado—do not support the attacks on public schools and teachers, no longer support charter schools, and adamantly oppose vouchers.