Archives for category: Network for Public Education

Peter Greene wrote in the Bucks County Beacon about the lucrative real estate deals that produce profits for charter schools. He reviewed the latest report from the Network for Public Education report Chartered for Profit II.

It would be easy to assume that charter schools are in the education business, but in fact, many charter school companies appear to be in the real estate business instead.

In its new report, “Chartered for Profit II,” the Network for Public Education lays out the techniques for running a charter for profit, even if it is nominally non-profit, including the use of real estate deals.

One of the most common techniques for running a charter school for profit is to have the non-profit company run by a for-profit charter management organization.

In some states, there is no need to keep those two companies strictly separate. For example, in North Carolina, the non-profit Torchlight Academy was led by principal Cynthia McQueen. The for-profit company hired to run the school was Torchlight Academy Schools, LLC, whose CEO was Don McQueen, Cynthia’s husband. In addition, McQueen’s daughter was hired as special education director, and their son-in-law was awarded the contract for cleaning services for the school.

Those kinds of insider deals can involve real estate as well; the left hand buys a building, and then rents it to the right hand. The NPE report outlines how Glenn Way, a former Utah legislator, set up a charter school empire in Arizona. He and his wife established the American Leadership Academy chain of charter schools. At the same time, Way ran several real estate outfits, including Schoolhouse Development, that built and developed charter school properties. Way, like many other real estate businessmen in the charter school business, was able to use his real estate business to collect rent from his charter school business—all of it paid with taxpayer dollars.

“When Craig Harris of the Arizona Republic asked Way if such profiteering from taxpayer dollars intended for children should be allowed, he responded, ‘It’s [charter schooling] no different than building a Walmart, CVS, or Walgreens.’”

Notes the report:

An investigation in 2018 by the Arizona Republicfound that Way’s real estate business collected roughly $37 million in taxpayer dollars passed through his ALA charter school chain.

Florida’s Academica is yet another example. The company is owned by real estate developer Fernando Zulueta, who opened his first charter school as part of a housing development he had constructed. He expressed no burning desire to get children a great education; he just figured a school would make the housing development more attractive.

Zulueta and his brother have launched what journalist Jessica Bakeman called “an empire of charter schools.” Their headquarters are the home address of over 100 active corporations linked to various family members. Within this maze of corporations, charter facilities are sold off in ways that allow one arm of the octopus to cash in on the sale while another arm keeps earning management fees for the school.

The Academica chain is rapidly expanding in Nevada and other states.

Please open the link and read the rest of this excellent review of an important study of charter profiteering.

John Merrow shares his wisdom and makes a list of worthy recipients of your holiday giving. I’m happy to note that he included the Network for Public Education.

I hope you will consider making a donation to the Network for Public Education—either a one-time gift or a monthly gift.

NPE is working on behalf of students, families, teachers, public schools, and communities every day.

We have a small but mighty staff. We don’t waste money on a physical office. We produce reports, letters to legislators, and work with journalists to spread the good news about our public schools and their incredible teachers and students.

We need your help!

From Carol Burris, executive director of NPE:

December Newsletter: A new “Conversation with Diane Ravitch” and more

Can you spare just $5.00 a month to save public education?

Your monthly gift provides a dependable source of funding, enabling our team to put out Action Alerts, newsletters, seminars, and reports that inform the public, the press, and policymakers about the war on public schools.

Please commit today to a monthly amount of $5, $10, $15, or even $20. For NPE, monthly donations add up to make a big difference.

The stakes are getting higher all of the time. Just this week, the outgoing Oklahoma attorney general declared that it is unconstitutional to prohibit religious charter schools.

Betsy DeVos’s American Federation for Children and the Oklahoma governor applauded.

A Catholic online charter chain is ready to put in its application. The time is now to act to save public education.

Please sign up to make a monthly donation today.


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.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is a time to reflect what we are grateful for.

What are you grateful for?

I am grateful for life. Last year, I had open heart surgery, and for the first five days after surgery, my life hung in the balance. Yet here I am, reading, writing, thinking, alive.

I am grateful for my dear family: My wife, Mary. My children, my grandchildren. I am blessed to be with and near people I love who love me.

I am grateful to live in America. Despite all the challenges our country faces, it’s still a wonderful place to live, where communities come together in bad times, and strangers act to help others.

I am grateful to live in a country where I can speak and write what I wish without fear of punishment.

I am grateful for the rise of a young generation whose idealism and vision will change our country for the better.

I am grateful for the dear friends at the Network for Public Education, whose advocacy and passion on behalf of democracy, public schools, their teachers and their teachers inspires me every day.

I am grateful for the educators who put students first, who work tirelessly for one of the nation’s most important and vital institutions.

I am grateful for the readers of this blog, many of whom have become good friends, without our having met in person. I am grateful too for what I learn every day from you.

If you have read this far, I want you to know that I don’t intend to post much this weekend. Maybe nothing at all.

Carol Burris writes in The Progressive about the alarming rate with which charters close. Parents should know this before enrolling their children and taking a chance.

She writes:

In May, a study by the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH) at Tulane University found that charter schools close at much higher rates than public schools, even when controlling for factors such as enrollment and test scores. Each year, roughly 5 percent of charters close, compared with 1 percent of public schools.

But REACH’s data likely underestimates the problem. Because so many new charter schools open each year, the closure rate is offset by the overall growth of the industry. And a new charter opening in Columbus, Ohio, is of little help to a student whose charter just closed in Memphis, Tennessee.

To more accurately capture the big picture, we at the Network for Public Education published a report on the long-term viability of charter schools. We looked at seventeen cohorts, each composed of all U.S. charters that opened in a given year, beginning in 1998 and ending in 2014. Our goal was to track these schools over time and see how they fared when compared with one another. We found that, by year three, an average of 18 percent of charters had closed. By year ten, the proportion of failed charters topped 40 percent.

Enrollment data for the year before each school closed indicated that charter schools opening between 1999 and 2017 have collectively displaced upwards of one million students—often with almost no warning.

The alarming rate of charter school closures prompted the U.S. Department of Education to direct federal startup funding to schools more likely to succeed. But even modest proposals have met stiff resistance from the charter lobby. For them, the closures are seen positively: It is “the sector working as intended,” Chalkbeat reported, citing National Alliance for Public Charter Schools Chief Executive Officer Nina Rees.

And she’s right—charter churn, including abrupt closures, is baked into the marketplace model that believes only the most popular performers should survive. The three recent closings in North Carolina, however, were not based on popularity, or even low test scores—they were the result of greed and fraud.

To prevent this, government officials at all levels need to tighten regulations and hold charter school boards accountable. Until government officials get serious about charter school reform, each parent or guardian who enrolls their child in a charter school deserves a notice that says, “Caution: This school could close with little to no warning.”

When the Network for Public Education met in Philadelphia April 30-May 1, I was surprised and delighted to encounter David Berliner. He had never attended one of our conferences, and he flew from the West Coast to do so. David Berliner is the most eminent education researcher in the United States, a giant in his field. He is now retired but continues to write and contribute to education studies and debates. His most recent book, which he edited with Carl Hermanns, is Public Education: Defending a Cornerstone of American Democracy. It contains 29 essays about the importance of public education, written by well-known scholars and educators.

I recently received this note from Dr. Berliner about his reaction to the NPE conference.

Dear Diane,

It was so nice to see you and Carol Burris at the annual meeting of our Network for Public Education. I know how hard you and others worked to make it a success. I write to tell you and Carol that it was exactly that for me.

As I think you know, I live pretty much by myself since my wife’s illness necessitated a move from Tempe to Oakland. Thus, I no longer have the same support group that I had in Arizona. Reading your posts, and NPE articles, is certainly edifying. Both sources of information do inform me, but they do more than that. They also signal me that there are many others who share our beliefs in the necessity for, and importance of, a successful system of public education.

My attendance at the recent annual meeting of NPE, in Philadelphia, was so very affirming of our common values. It reminded me that others with similar beliefs exist and are doing important work. I got to meet some of the published heroes of mine, whose work I often read, and with whom I share common purpose. But I also got to meet heroes I had not known about before. These folks often work at the local level, doing the hard work of keeping public schools public, decently funded, and building programs that improve the outcomes for America’s most impoverished youth. They do the hardest work, I think, and I was so happy to listen to them and know that we have so many like-minded folks on the ground, at the local level.

Everyone I met at the meetings I thought of as heroes trying their best to stop the onslaught of the privateers and our slide into plutocracy. I thought everyone I met believed, as I do, in words written by the late Paul Wellstone. I keep Wellstone’s words nearby to me when I work, as a reminder of what should be reflected in my own work. He said: “That all citizens will be given an equal start through a sound education is one of the most basic, promised rights of our democracy. Our chronic refusal as a nation to guarantee that right for all children, including poor children, is a national disgrace. It is rooted in a kind of moral blindness, or at least a failure of moral imagination, that we do not see that meeting the most basic needs of so many of our children condemns them to lives and futures of frustration, chronic underachievement, poverty, crime and violence. It is a failure which threatens our future as a nation of citizens called to a common purpose, allied with one another in a common enterprise, tied to one another by a common bond.”

At the recent NPE meetings I witnessed participants called to common purpose, allied to each other in a common enterprise: To support and enhance America’s systems of public education. We shared our common bond. It was so satisfying to be there. I already look forward to attending again next year.

David C. Berliner

Regents’ Professor Emeritus,

Arizona State University

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of advanced mathematics and physics in California, is now a significant chronicler of the Destroy Public Education movement. He attended the recent national conference of the Network for Public Education in Philadelphia and recapitulates the excitement we shared at being in person after a 2-year hiatus.

After every conference, attendees say, “This was the best one yet.” They enjoy meeting people who are doing the same work to fight privatization of their public schools. By the end of the conference, attendees say they feel energized, hopeful, and happy to know that they are not alone.

I urge you to read Tom’s post. You will get a sense of the embarrassment of riches available to attendees.

I should add that the Nebraska Save Our Schools group shared the Phyllis Bush Award for Grassroots Activism. Nebraska is one of the few states that has managed to protect its public schools and keep out both charters and vouchers, despite being a Red State.

The Pastors for Texas Children, a co-winner of the award, has repeatedly blocked vouchers in the Texas Legislature and has consistently fought for funding for public schools. PTC has opened chapters in other Red states, where they mobilize clergy to support public schools.

A high point for me was interviewing “Little Stevie” Van Zandt, a legendary rock star and actor (“The Sopranos”), who is dedicated to getting the arts into schools, not as an extra, but across the curriculum. we had a wonderful conversation. He has funded lesson plans based on rock and roll, available free at his website TeachRock.

All of the general sessions were taped. I will post them when they become available.

Jonathan Chait writes for New York magazine, where his latest article appeared, opposing the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed regulations for the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). CSP currently spends $440 million annually to underwrite new charter schools. Chait titled his article “Biden Abandons the Obama Legacy on Charter Schools,” but it might as well have been titled “Biden Abandons the Betsy DeVos Legacy on Charter Schools.”

Chait also attacked the Network for Public Education, which had issued two reports (see here and here) documenting the waste, fraud, and abuse in the CSP, based on the Education Department’s own data. NPE found that almost 40% of CSP funding went to charters that either never opened or closed within a few years of opening. In the life of the program, almost $1 billion had been wasted. In addition, NPE pointed out the scandals associated with some high-profile for-profit charter operators, as well as the use of CSP money to open white-flight charters.

This year, for the first time since the CSP was created nearly 30 years ago, the Department proposed to ban the funding of for-profit charter management organizations and of white-flight charters. The regulations also ask applicants for an impact analysis that describes what effect the new charter is likely to have on existing public schools and why the new charter is needed. These sensible reform proposals sent the charter lobbyists into frenzied opposition, claiming falsely that these regulations were meant to destroy all charter schools. This was nonsense because they would have no effect on the thousands of existing charters, only on applicants for new federal funding, that is, charters that do not yet exist.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, sharply denounced the lies and misrepresentations of the “trade organization” for the charter industry. But, despite her reproach, the charter industry still promotes dishonest diatribes about the Department’s efforts to reform the CSP.

Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, was incensed when she read Chait’s defense of the charter industry’s effort to protect the for-profit managers who have abused CSP funds and of the operators that have used CSP funding to provide white-flight charters.

She wrote the following response.

In his recent column, “Biden Abandons the Obama Legacy on Charter Schools,” Jonathan Chait is perturbed that the U.S. Department of Education referred Chalkbeat’s Matt Barnum to me for comment on an article he was writing about the Department’s proposed regulations for funding new charter schools. He then scolds Barnum for not disclosing that the Network for Public Education has received donations from unions. He calls Barnum’s story “neutral.” Chait’s source for this big scoop? The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Jonathan Chait then parrots the “wild exaggerations and misrepresentations” that Rosa De Lauro called out last week after expressing her support for CSP reforms during the Education Department’s 2023 budget hearing. The Appropriations Chairwoman noted that “this kind of information campaign is a familiar tactic for the trade organization [National Alliance for Public Charter Schools]. It does represent charter schools that are run by risky low-quality for-profit education management organizations.”

You know those “wild exaggerations.” I wrote about them here. Obviously, Chait did not read the mentioned Barnum piece, which was solid reporting, and he certainly did not read the proposed regulations carefully (which Representative DeLauro described in a letter to Secretary Miguel Cardona about the charter industry’s misrepresentations). Or he just chose to twist facts and truth.

Now let’s talk about what Jonathan Chait failed to disclose as he opposed the CSP regulation reforms, using the same misinformation that has appeared in other op-eds.

His wife worked for Center City Charter Schools as a grant writer when that charter chain received two grants from the Charter School Program (CSP), the program whose loose rules he is now defending. Download the 2019 database that you can find here and match the years of dispersion to the resume of Robin Chait. But the undisclosed conflict continues to this day. Since 2018, Robin Chait has worked for West Ed which evaluated the CSP during the Betsy De Vos era. And her employer, West Ed, once got its own $1.74 million grant from CSP.

But back to NPE funding. During some recent years we got modest donations from unions to bring teachers to our conferences. At our very beginning, we received start-up funds from the Chicago Teachers Union through a fiscal sponsor, Voices for Children. That ended in 2015. We will always be grateful to our friend, the late Karen Lewis, for that jump-start. Karen foresaw the growing attacks on public schools and teachers as an ominous trend and wanted to encourage allies to support a bedrock institution of our democracy.

We appreciate any tax-deductible donations we get. You won’t get favors, but you will always get a thank you. Our income comes from individual donations from our large number of supporters—educators, parents, family foundations, and other citizens who have a deep and abiding love for public schools.

This is not the first time Chait has been called out for not disclosing his wife’s connections with charters. But given the topic and her work in organizations connected with the Charter School Program, this is the worst omission yet. Shame on New York Magazine for not making him disclose and for letting him play fast and loose with the truth. And shame on Chait’s hypocritical critique of Barnum even as he hides the family connections with the program he defends.

The Network for Public Education has just released a new report that ranks the states by their commitment to their public schools and their refusal to pass laws enabling privatization of public money.

Where does your state rank?


America’s public schools, students, and families are under a near-constant attack from political special interests looking to privatize and profit at the expense of our children. The Network for Public Education (NPE) has released its findings in its latest report “Public Schooling in America: Measuring Each States Commitment to Democratically Governed Schools.”

Researchers examined laws and regulations in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to measure how well policymakers protect public funds from exploitative privatization through low-quality virtual and brick-and-mortar charter schools, environments without fully-vetted staff, and profit-centered systems. Most troubling were findings that expose how state laws allow charter and voucher schools to leave students behind, discriminating against the most vulnerable.

Diving into the world of school privatization led the report’s authors to some dark conclusions about the future of schooling in America. Reflecting on the school privatization movement, the report notes:

“It has achieved the full-throated support of the right-wing, which now controls many state legislatures. Conserving public schools and local control is no longer part of a conservative platform: destroying locally controlled public schools via privatized choice is.”

Some of the findings might surprise readers, as states like California lead the nation in charter school fraud.

“The reality is these voucher programs and charter school expansions being promoted in state capitols across the country are almost custom-designed to incentivize, legalize, and reward fraud, often coupled with minimal repercussions for misspending public funding meant for our students,” said Carol Burris, executive director of NPE.

The report notes that “the first step in stopping the privatization movement is to understand it.” To help the public understand the scope of the issue, NPE graded each state based on their willingness to turn public dollars over to privatized systems as well as the robustness of their protections against discrimination, fraud, student endangerment, corruption, transparency, and accountability.

At the top of the list are the schools where a commitment to conserving public schools and local control remains strong. Those states receiving an “A+” grade include Nebraska and North Dakota, where there are no voucher or charter school laws.

The details of what they found may be alarming to those working to hold states accountable to democratically governed schools. For example:

  • 50% of states with voucher programs don’t require any background checks for voucher school staff in at least one voucher program
  • 33 (73%) states don’t require charter students to be taught by certified teachers, or allow so many exceptions that any existing regulations are rendered meaningless
  • 37 states allow entirely online charter schools that have been shown to be years behind public schools in academic progress
  • 5 states have for-profit organizations running 30% or more of charter schools.

At the same time, the report is a celebration of those states like Nebraska and North Dakota that despite strong lobbying efforts continue to defend their public schools. Commenting on the highest-scoring states, NPE President Diane Ravitch said, “NPE salutes the states that have protected and cherished their public schools while fending off the siren call of privatization. They can and should build strong public schools that are open to the public and owned by the public.”

To view the full list of grades for each state and see how yours stands on protecting students and communities from the exploitation of privatization, view the report in its entirety here.

The Network for Public Education (NPE) was founded in 2013 by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody. Its mission is to protect, preserve, promote, and strengthen public schools for both current and future generations of students. We share information and research on vital issues that concern the future of public education. For more information, please visit: