Archives for category: Network for Public Education

Laurie Roberts is a columnist for the Arizona Republic who has written frequently about frauds in the charter and voucher sectors. When I was writing Slaying Goliath, I found her reporting and her sharp to be invaluable. She read Carol Burris’s article about the Network for Public Education study of charters that double dipped in two different pots of federal funding, and she thought that their greed was ridiculous.

As Congress considers the next economic stimulus package, it’s worth mentioning that America’s charter schools snagged at least $925 million in emergency funding from the Paycheck Protection Program, according to an analysis by Network for Public Education.

In Arizona, 100 charter school operations bagged anywhere from $40 million to nearly $100 million in emergency funding, the analysis of U.S. Small Business Administration records shows.

That’s a lot of stimulation, economically speaking. Especially when you consider that the losses at publicly funded charter schools are largely a figment of the federal government’s imagination.

Unlike small businesses that saw their operations fall off a cliff when COVID-19 hit, Arizona taxpayers fund Arizona’s charter schools.

Charters already getting state, federal aid

Not only have charter operators received their regular per-student allotments of state money, they are eligible for a share of the hundreds of millions of dollars in CARES Act funding that is being pumped into public schools to cover added costs due to COVID-19 and budget shortfalls.

So, what losses?

The Arizona Charter Schools Association sent me a statement saying charter schools were concerned this spring that the coronavirus would lead to state budget cuts, requiring them to lay off teachers.

“Charter schools have not only faced questions about the uncertainty of the state budget, but also seen steep declines in charitable fundraising and programs such as before-and after-care – which are important revenue sources for our schools and students,” the statement said. “These federal funds have provided financial assistance to eligible recipients, as Congress intended.”

No word on how many of those schools returned the money when those state budget cuts didn’t happen.

Roberts notes that more than 400 charter schools had the decency not to apply for money they didn’t need.

But:

Among the 100 charters that went for the windfall was – surprise! – American Virtual Academy. The management company, which runs Primavera Online School, snagged somewhere between $2 million and $5 million in PPP money.

This is the same company whose CEO, Damian Creamer, managed to pay himself a combined $10.1 million in 2017 and 2018 out of taxpayer money set aside to educate students. Never mind that fewer than a third of his students couldn’t read or do math at grade level or that nearly half were dropping out.

Creamer’s education technology company, StrongMind, also scored a $2 million to $5 million forgivable loan from the PPP program, according to The Arizona Republic’s Lily Altavena. Meanwhile, Verano Learning Partners, which was founded by Creamer and lists the same address as American Virtual and StrongMind, snagged a PPP payout of $150,000 to $350,000.

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, reports on a major NPE investigation of charter schools that double dipped into federal funding for coronavirus relief. The article was posted on Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” at the Washington Post. First the charters received public funding from the $13.2 billion allocated to public schools as part of the CARES Act. Then, on the advice of charter school lobbyists, many applied for funding from the $660 billion Paycheck Protection Program, for which public schools were not eligible. Charters enroll 6% of the nation’s students.

Valerie Strauss introduces the report:

The Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP, is a $660-billion business loan program established as part of the $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus legislation that Congress passed in the spring. PPP was aimed at helping certain small businesses, nonprofit organizations, sole proprietors and others stay in business during the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Small Business Administration administered the program, and recently the SBA and the Treasury Department released some data on what organizations won loans from the program and how much they received. (Some loans can be forgiven if the PPP money is spent on keeping employees on the payroll.)

The release of funding details sparked some controversy about whether some of the organizations that received funds should have gotten them, including public charter schools — which are publicly funded but privately operated — and some elite private schools. (A Washington Post database shows the data.)

Charter schools received emergency stimulus money from Congress from the same fund that traditional public schools did — but some charter schools decided to apply for PPP loans as well, saying that they are underfunded through regular funding formulas and had a right to seek more aid. Other charter schools chose not to apply for loans, saying it would be double-dipping in federal aid funds.

Among those charters that did were some that knew they didn’t actually need the money to maintain financial stability. For example, 2KUTV in Salt Lake City did an investigation into Utah charter schools taking PPP funding and found that they took a total of $7.9 million. It reported on a discussion at the June 25 meeting of the governing board of the Utah Military Academy, a charter with two campuses, in which an unidentified board member explained how the $1.15 million in PPP funding that the school was expecting would be spent.

The conversation, heard on audio tapes, went like this, according to the CBS affiliate:

“So we take this money to pay the salaries, and the money we were going to pay salaries is going to go into our accounts to help flush up our funds,” said the board member.
“Can I ask a question?” a female voice said. “My understanding was that this money is for businesses who, because of the drop in business, were having trouble keeping all their employees. How do we qualify for that? Because our funding wasn’t cut at all.”
She also notes that no employees have been laid off by the school because of the covid-19 pandemic. Two more voices interject, “We’re a business,” and, “We’re a nonprofit.” A third voice is heard saying, “It’s some of that good free government money!”

With that, here is the post about just how much charter schools did get in PPP money, written by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, an alliance of organizations that advocates for the improvement of public education. Burris, a former award-winning principal in New York, has been chronicling the charter school movement and the standardized-test-based accountability movement on this blog for years.

Here is Burris’s report:

On May 13, Washington Post reporter Perry Stein reported that some Washington, D.C., charter schools had been receiving funds from the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), although all of their taxpayer revenue continued to flow. By June 15, The New York Times’s Erica L. Green also wrote a story about how charter schools, some of which had billionaire backers, had been applying for and getting PPP money. Before long, local news agencies picked up on the story, questioning why schools that received public funding were tapping into the SBA program.

Unknown at the time was the national scope of the use of PPP funds by charters. Therefore, the Network for Public Education decided to scour the list of PPP recipients disclosed by the SBA and create lists by state of the charter schools and their management organizations that had received funding.

The amount that we have identified is staggering. More than 1,300 charter schools and their nonprofit or for-profits and management companies secured between $925 million and $2.2 billion through the PPP. We provide a range not from uncertainty but because the SBA chose not to report the exact amounts of the forgivable loans.
Even this range is an underestimate. Excluded from our calculations is the sizable number of PPP loans below $150,000 — which the Trump administration has not disclosed. You can find our state-by-state list of charter schools and charter management organizations, along with each school’s PPP range amounts on our website here.
Background

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools informed its members via email in March that it had successfully lobbied for charter schools to receive PPP funds and provided instructions on how such funding could be obtained. The blog that contained the contents of that email has been removed, however, you can find it in the Internet archives here. Not only did the charter school alliance encourage its members to apply, but the organization itself received its own PPP forgivable loan in the range of $350,000 and $1 million.

Because the laws regarding charter transparency vary from state to state, prior to the publication of the SBA list we could only obtain information about PPP loans by reading charter school minutes, if they were posted. In some cases, we were able to listen to available recordings of meetings. From that limited information, a disturbing pattern emerged.

Well-funded charters with ample funding were applying for and receiving large PPP awards. A discussion of the governing board of California’s Summit Public Schools was particularly insightful. Not only did the school’s chief executive officer report that the schools were in good fiscal standing, the only major concern of the board, in addition to public relations, was whether or not they would find themselves under criminal investigation if they took the funds and it was then discovered that Summit did not need the money.

When the SBA finally released the PPP data, a nonprofit research and policy organization group called In the Public Interest, and the nonprofit grassroots advocacy group Parents United for Public Schools, analyzed charter school recipients in the state of California. Meanwhile, Carol Burris, Marla Kilfoyle and Darcie Cimarusti of the Network for Public Education concentrated on the other 49 states and the District of Columbia. Professor Gary Miron of Western Michigan University provided a national list of for-profit and nonprofit charter management organizations, which we checked against the PPP database as well. Because some organizations did not list themselves as nonprofits but rather as corporations, and some charter schools have nonprofits with names different from the name of the school, it is likely we missed a sizable number of grantees.

What we found

California has the most charter schools in the nation — approximately 1,300. Even so, its charter sector received a disproportionately large amount of PPP funding, which may be as high as half a -billion dollars.
More than 400 charter organizations received loan money totaling between $240.7 million and $565.6 million. In the Public Interest has created a searchable database of the California charters that received PPP loans, available here. Two-thirds of these charters are affiliated with “CMO’s,” or “charter management organizations,” such as Learn4Life and Magnolia Public Schools, large chains with campuses statewide. Inspire Schools, whose founder and former chief executive officer has recently drawn criticism for receiving more than $1 million in retroactively authorized payroll, took as much as $29.7 million in PPP funding. This home-schooling charter network was expelled last fall from the California Charter Schools Association, an organization that typically unabashedly defends its members.

In Los Angeles County — where the Los Angeles Unified School District has more charter schools than any other school system in the country — according to In the Public Interest, charters received as much as $201 million. San Diego County charters received as much as $91 million.

The New York State charter sector received between $126 million and $293.2 million — even as local businesses were going belly up due to a lack of revenue during the high point of the covid-19 pandemic in that state.
While New York public school districts may have felt the pain of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) decision to not distribute federal CARES Act funding to schools and use it to fill the state’s budget hole instead, 146 of the 327 charter schools had that blow cushioned by PPP. For example, six of the eight New Vision Charter High Schools received PPP funding, which totaled at the high end of the range to $10 million. In addition, the New Visions charter management organization that manages the schools received its own PPP funding in an amount between $2 million and $5 million.

Beside California and New York, two other states’ charter sectors received high-end range PPP funding in excess of $100 million: Florida, at $152.8 million, and Louisiana, at $107.4 million. The charter sectors in three other states received up to $80 million or more: Arizona, $99.4 million; Pennsylvania, $85 million; and Texas $81.1 million. Again, readers can find state totals along with school names and funding ranges here.

National charter chains cash in

Learn4Life is a charter school chain claiming 80 campuses in California enrolling nearly 40,000 students. It is expanding to North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas. Its schools are often storefronts in malls where over-aged or at-risk students pick up work to independently complete. On-site teachers provide support if needed.
According to In the Public Interest, Learn4Life schools received as much as $51.7 million in PPP funds — more than the total amount received by the entire charter sectors in the majority of states. Last June, a judge ordered the chain to close three of its San Diego County locations after school districts said they were operating illegally within their boundaries. Later that year, a Voice of San Diego investigation revealed that John Helgeson, a Learn4Life executive vice president, was collecting two paychecks paid with public money. In a scheme described as “a classic conflict interest,” Helgeson owned a for-profit company that loaned money and leased corporate office space to Learn4Life while he worked for the chain.

At a glance, Learn4Life seems too big to apply for a PPP loan. But like Shake Shack and other corporations with multiple locations, Learn4Life’s leaders took advantage of the chain’s structure to apply school by school, while also applying for their central management organization.

Learn4Life was hardly alone. Twenty-one organizations related to the KIPP charter chain have in total received an amount at the high end of the range, $68.7 million, more than the high end of the charter sector in 42 states.

The for-profit charter management organization Academica runs charter schools in seven states. Its home office is located in Florida, where the company manages scores of charter schools down the east coast of the state from Fort Pierce to Homestead. Academica also has a presence in Arizona, California, Nevada, South Carolina, Texas and Utah. Academica Management, L.L.C, Academica West, and Academica Virtual Education, which the EMO uses to support online schooling, received PPP funding as did 15 of the schools it manages and supports. High-range amounts for Academica and its schools produce a total of $35.7 million.

Small charter management organizations jumped in as well. Phillips Education Partners, located in Newark, New Jersey, got between $150,000 and $350,000. It runs two charter schools. One of those two schools, Phillips Academy of Patterson, also received PPP in the same amount — $150,00-$350,000 — as the charter management organization. Miguel Brito, the chief executive officer of Phillips Education Partners, received total compensation in 2017 of $410,205. Meanwhile, the average salary for New Jersey school superintendents in 2017-18, was $155,631, according to an NJ Advance Media analysis of state data.

Authentic need or money grab?

The board of Palisades Charter High School near Los Angeles voted in June to accept $4.6 million in PPP funding despite admitting that they didn’t have an immediate need for the money. Yet, earlier this month, they voted to lay off five staff members, including a tutoring center coordinator, and reduce the hours of 18 other employees.

Palisades was not alone. In all of the minutes we read, and recordings we listened to, charter school boards reported ample fund balances and justified taking the money because future funding was uncertain. During a meeting of the Utah Military Academy, one board member described taking PPP funds as follows: “So we take this money to pay the salaries, and the money we were going to pay salaries is going to go into our accounts to help flush up our funds.”

However, preparing for possible uncertainties or “flushing up funds” was not the purpose of the program. We are aware of no other sector funded nearly exclusively by the taxpayers that received PPP.

This begs the questions about whether charter schools should have been allowed to access PPP money, and whether harm was caused by allowing them to do so.

Charter schools have received the same continuity of funding as district-run neighborhood public schools during the pandemic. Eligible charter schools — those schools with large numbers of low-income students —have also received federal CARES Act funding, as well as other state-based covid-19 relief. While receiving this funding that was intended to support public schools, charter schools are now also receiving funding that was intended for small businesses and nonprofits whose revenue streams were drastically impacted by the pandemic.
Granted, charter schools are not alone among nonprofits in taking funding just because they can. We found 17 nonprofit organizations that support charter schools (or advocated for charters receiving PPP funding) receiving that funding themselves — in total receiving between $6.3 and $14.8 million. For example, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a school reform think tank, is also an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio. It received between $350,000 and $1 million in PPP funding despite its initial endowment of $50 million. In 2018, the organization ended the year with a fund balance of $8 million. Readers can find a list of these charter support organizations and the amounts they received here.

And now to the question of harm. By taking PPP when not needed, systemic inequities increased. The PPP has been widely criticized as being difficult to access for many small businesses, particularly those owned by people of color.

A survey conducted in May of 500 black and Latinx small-business owners found that just 12 percent of those who had applied had received the funds they asked for, with nearly 50 percent anticipating having to permanently close in the next six months. A recent study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition found “different levels of encouragement to apply for loans, different products offered, and different information provided by bank representatives.”

Certainly, there are other nonprofit and for-profit organizations beyond the charter school world that took covid-19 money just because they could. Although eligible via our nonprofit status, the Network for Public Education did not apply for PPP funds. We encourage other nonprofit organizations that were able to meet payroll without the funding to return those funds, making them available to the small businesses that never received them or that may need a second infusion of cash.

As to the funding supplied to charter schools, we suggest that as states distribute the next round of funding to schools, that allocations to charter schools that received PPP be reduced by the amount they received and be redistributed equitably to all schools, both public and charter.

Do you wonder which businesses, schools, and nonprofits in your neighborhood or state got a piece of the hundreds of billions of dollars handed out by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the Paycheck Protection Program? He tried to keep the names of the recipients secret but eventually released the list.

Now you can easily review the list.

ProPublica put all the awards into a search engine which anyone can use. Here it is.

You can satisfy your curiosity about who got the money. I looked at my zip code and was shocked to see some very wealthy institutions listed as well as some local businesses who probably thought they won the grand prize in the lottery. Those on the know cashed in. Many worthy small businesses and colleges never applied. They were not in the know.

Would you like to do some volunteer work for the Network for Public Education? We would love to have your help identifying the charter schools in your state that received PPP money.

Public schools were not eligible to participate in the PPP, but charter lobbyists made sure that charter schools were. Thus, they got money designated for public schools, and they went back to get more money as small nonprofit businesses.

NPE is developing a spread sheet for every state but we don’t have the staff to review all of them. If you would like to help, please contact Darcie Cimarusti, our Communications Director, who is coordinating the project.

You would need to go through your state’s list of grantees and identify the charter schools and how much each one received.

If you want to help, contact Darcie and she can answer your questions. Dcimarusti@networkforpubliceducation.org

I had two recent contacts with Andre Perry, and I fell in love with him. I’m no threat to his wife because I’m 82 and married.

We met for the first time on this Zoom conversation.

As you will see, he is candid, honest, open, smart, and charming. I don’t always fall for guys just because they have a great smile, but Andre surprised me.

I thought he would be super-serious but he wasn’t.

He talked about his childhood. He talked about his life as a charter leader in New Orleans. He talked about his disaffection with the white reformers and philanthropists who thought that what the schools of New Orleans needed most was to fire black teachers and staff.

The second contact I had with Andre was reading his new book, Know Your Price.

I got to know Andre by reading his book.

More important, I got Andre’s message about seeing the world through a different lens.

We grew up in very different circumstances. I had two parents and a nuclear family. He had a different kind of family, a loving family.

What you will learn from his book is to see the world differently.

That’s a gift.

What you will see is a man who thinks for himself, without regard to orthodoxy.

Watch our conversation. Watch me become charmed by this brilliant young man.

Buy his book and you too will be transformed.

Last night, I had a Zoom talk with Amy Frogge, who has served for eight years on the Metro Nashville school board.

We talked about charters, vouchers, the Dark Money that infiltrated school board races, and the promising things happening in Nashville.

She is soon leaving the board to become executive director of Pastors for Tennessee Children.

Amy is one of the heroes featured in my book SLAYING GOLIATH. Watch our discussion and you will understand why. She has chosen a life of service and made a difference.

You can watch here.

On May 20, I will ZOOM with Dr. Michael Hynes, the most interesting and inspiring superintendent I know.

Mike Hynes is superintendent of the Port Washington school district on Long Island, In New York.

He is a visionary. His new book—about educational leadership—is Staying Grounded.

He truly believes in whole-child education. He supports the parent opt-out movement. He believes that what matters most is children’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. He is passionate about play, calm, mindfulness.

Mike is my choice for the next state superintendent of New York. What a wild thought! Imagine a major state led. Y a man who knows the harm done by standardized testing! Imagine a state willing to lead, instead of follow.

Join us on Wednesday May 20 at 7:40 pm EST to watch a discussion sponsored by the Network for Public Education. Space is limited to 100. Everyone else can watch a livestream on NPE’s Facebook page.

The monthly newsletter of the Grassroots Education Network of the Network for Public Education is out!

Connect with grassroots organizations fighting for public schools, their students, and their educators!

Learn what they are doing in the newsletter.

Together we will have to fight the budget cuts that are in the horizon.

Let’s stand together and demand that the states and federal government invest in our children.

Every Wednesday at 7:40 pm EST, the Network for Public Education has hosted a conversation about education. All the conversations are archived here.

In the first one, I discussed my new book SLAYING GOLIATH with Carol Burris.

In the second one, I talked to Pastor Charles Foster Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children about their fight against vouchers and for public schools.

In the third one, I asked Mercedes Schneider about her new book and her skill at investigative reporting.

In the fourth one, I discussed the effects of the pandemic on early childhood education with ECE experts Denisha Jones and Susan Ochshorn.

A letter from Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education.

First and foremost, we care about you. When we realized the 43% of our registrants were in a higher-risk group for Covid-19, we knew we had to reschedule.

Our conference hotel, the Philadelphia Doubletree, has been a wonderful partner, and within a few days, we will share a new 2020 date.

We ask that you be patient as we finalize plans and create a list of what you need to do. But, we wanted to let you know quickly in case you need to cancel a flight.

We are so disappointed that we will not see you in two weeks, but we look forward to seeing you in the not too distant future. An email with more detail will arrive in a few days.

Stay healthy and take care of those you love.

Valerie Strauss wrote a stunning dissection of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s lies to Congress in her recent testimony.

Was she lying because of ignorance or a desire to mislead the public? She lied about charter wait lists, about progress over time on NAEP scores, and about the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, which spends $440 million to launch new charters, entirely at DeVos’ discretion.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/07/betsy-devoss-problem-with-numbers/

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has a problem with numbers. As in, she sometimes cites numbers that just aren’t accurate.

DeVos, of course, is hardly the only government official to cite inaccurate numbers to make a point, but that’s no reason not to point it out when she does — and she did during two appearances in the last week before congressional committees when defending the Trump administration’s proposed 2021 budget.

Let’s look at a few examples from her testimony.

One misleading figure that gets repeated, and not just by DeVos, is this: There are 1 million students on waiting lists at charter schools throughout the country. DeVos uses the statistic to show there is enormous demand for charters — which are publicly funded but privately operated — but not enough schools to accept all children who want to go. That, the argument goes, is why charter expansion should be encouraged.

To be sure, some charter schools are indeed in high demand and do have long waiting lists. But on some of the lists, there are duplicates, children who are already in other schools and other issues.

The 1 million figure was first cited in 2013 when the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools first made the claim. That alliance is led by Nina Rees, who worked for former vice president Richard B. Cheney. The alliance quickly revised the number it cited — to a minimum of 520,000 when it acknowledged that students were on duplicate lists.

In 2014, Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University, and Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder and founder of the National Education Policy Center, wrote a policy brief titled “Wait, Wait, Don’t Mislead Me,” which gave nine evidence-based reasons the waiting list numbers from the charter alliance should not be believed. These include no external verification, the same students on multiple lists and students who were never removed from waiting lists after lengthy periods.

In 2016, WGBH in Boston came to the same conclusion when it investigated charter waiting list numbers used to justify lifting the cap on charters. There were students on waiting lists who were happily enrolled in another school, with no desire to leave. Citizens for Public Schools found the waiting list for Boston Public Schools and Boston charter schools to be comparable. Ultimately, voters rejected a statewide referendum to lift the cap on charter.

And yet DeVos used that debunked number when defending her budget before Congress.

DeVos also talked about scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as NAEP. It’s often referred to as “the nation’s report card” or the “gold standard” in student assessment because it is seen as the most consistent, nationally representative measure of U.S. student achievement since the 1990s and because it is supposed to be able to assess what students “know and can do….”

NAEP scores are eagerly anticipated as evidence that schools are — or are not — making progress, and DeVos says, on this score, they aren’t.

According to DeVos, there has been no growth on NAEP scores in the last 20 years. She said the federal government has spent “over a trillion dollars at the federal level to close the achievement gap in the last 40 years” but “that achievement gap has not closed one bit.”

Not exactly.

According to Stanford University’s Center for Education Policy Analysis, the achievement gaps between white and black students and white and Hispanic students have been narrowing for decades — although unsteadily….

The gaps are still large, to be sure, but to say they haven’t budged is just not accurate.

The source of DeVos’s statement that $1 trillion has been spent over 40 years to close the achievement gap is unclear. The Education Department did not respond to a query about it.

During testimony last week before a House appropriations subcommittee, DeVos had an exchange with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) about charter schools in which, again, she tossed out questionable numbers.

As I reported here (https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/02/28/four-especially-testy-moments-when-betsy-devos-testified-capitol-hill/ ), Pocan raised the issue of fraud in the federal Charter Schools Program, which has approved $3.3 billion for the expansion of charter schools since 1994. Forty percent of operating charter schools were created with money from the program.

Pocan referred to two reports about problems with that program released last year by a nonprofit advocacy group, the Network for Public Education, which was co-founded by education historian and public schools advocate Diane Ravitch.

One report said the program had wasted up to $1 billion on charter schools that never opened, or opened and then closed because of poor management or other reasons. The other report focused on hundreds of millions of dollars spent on charter schools that got federal funding but never opened. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/03/25/report-us-government-wasted-up-billion-charter-schools-still-fails-adequately-monitor-grants/)

When Pocan referred to the 2019 reports, DeVos said they had been “debunked,” which Pocan noted was not true.

She also essentially denied there were problems with the program, saying the percentage of charter schools that received federal funding and closed was tiny. She instead attributed the assertions to “propaganda from an individual who has it in for charter schools.” (It is unclear to whom she was referring. But if she meant Ravitch, whom she has criticized before, she may not have known that who does indeed oppose charter schools — did not write the reports, which you can read about here and here.)

As it turns out, some of the facts she disputed from the reports came from her own letter to Congress, an audit report of the Education Department’s Office of Inspector General, Texas newspapers and other reports from her department.

Pocan told DeVos the Texas-based IDEA charter school chain had received more than $200 million from the federal Charter Schools Program. He then noted that IDEA had planned to spend millions of dollars to lease a private jet before backing off following bad publicity, and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for luxury box seats at San Antonio Spurs games. He also mentioned that IDEA board members were selling and brokering property to the charter chain they governed. (Tom Torkelson, chief executive of IDEA, publicly apologized for “really dumb and unhelpful” financial decisions.)

Pocan asked DeVos if she thought charter schools that receive federal funding should be allowed to use that money to purchase private jets, and she responded by saying it was a “hypothetical question” and that “there is no funding going to charter schools that would even address something like that.”

Actually, it was not hypothetical. The excesses of the IDEA charter chain described by Pocan were reported in the Houston Chronicle, the Texas Monitor and other news organizations and occurred during the years the chain was receiving grants from the federal Charter Schools Program.

In 2017, DeVos’s Education Department gave IDEA a grant of $67.2 million — even though it had not completed two other five-year grants. The next year, the department gave IDEA another grant for nearly $117 million.

Pocan continued, saying “the same group” — IDEA — had given incomplete and inaccurate information to the department during a three-year period. DeVos responded by saying, “Everything you are citing is debunked, ridiculous.” Pocan was citing an audit report by DeVos’s own Office of Inspector General.

At one point, DeVos circled back to the Network for Public Education reports and added that “the report that you referenced has been totally debunked as propaganda, fewer than 2 percent of schools didn’t open.” Later in the conversation with Pocan, she dropped that percentage to 1.5 percent.

That percentage was wildly different from the one included in a letter she wrote to Congress on June 28, 2019. That letter, signed by DeVos, states: “Since 2001, of the 5,265 charter schools that have received funding through a State entity or directly from the Department, 634 did not open and are unlikely to open in the future.”

If you do the math, you will come up with 12 percent. The two Network for Public Education reports came up with a similar percentage — a little over 11 percent.

Throughout the discussion, DeVos denied that 40 percent of the charter schools funded by the Charter Schools Program either opened and then closed or never opened at all. She said the 40 percent figure “was nothing but propaganda.”

As noted above, in her letter to Congress, DeVos said 5,265 schools had received funding through Charter School Program grants.

According to the 2019 Charter School Program Overview (see slide 8), 3,138 charter schools funded by the Charter Schools Program during the same time period were open in 2016-2017. That means 2,127 schools never opened or closed — which represents 40.4 percent of all charters funded from active grants during those years.