Archives for category: Scandals

For Immediate Release: For more information, contact: Carol Burris, NPE Executive Director, 718-577-3276,


The Network for Public Education (NPE) calls for the immediate cessation of ESA voucher payments to homeschoolers and all other non-school-based “individualized” instruction programs based on the discovery of an online homeschooling network whose primary purpose is to teach young children to be Nazis. According to the report in the Huffington Post, its numbers thus far are in the thousands, but the greater threat is how its existence exposes the dangers of publicly-subsidized vouchers designed to fund extremist beliefs.  Such programs, including so-called micro-schools, operate with almost no curricular supervision or public fiscal oversight, allowing them to legally indoctrinate children with a distorted hate-filled curriculum directly supported by public funds.

NPE President Diane Ravitch stated, “Our nation fought a World War to defeat Nazism. Public funds should not be used to propagate hatred of our fellow citizens. Public education exists to foster mutual respect among all citizens. Our public dollars should be used to teach the shared values of democracy, especially the rule of law, the equality of every person, the importance of free and fair elections, and the value of education in pursuing a life of dignity and purpose.”

Seven states now fund programs solely supervised by families with no control over whether a sound academic curriculum is taught. Eight states have introduced legislation that would either start or expand such programs. 

“These ESA voucher programs, which are mislabeled as scholarships and saving accounts, have been subject to fraud and abuse,” said Dr. Carol Burris, NPE executive director. “NPE has long held concerns that funded at-home programs might teach children misinformation or a radical curriculum of hate. This Neo-Nazi homeschool network now confirms our deepest fears.”

Many ESA voucher laws do not require the parent to present evidence that the student has learned anything to receive thousands of dollars in public funds.

In states that have adopted voucher plans, the academic results for students who left public schools are “disastrous,” says Josh Cowen, a professor at Michigan State University and a veteran voucher researcher. In addition, 75-80% of voucher funding goes to students already enrolled in private or religious schools. 

NPE also calls on every state to carefully review its homeschool laws. Eleven states do not require homeschoolers to report that their child is homeschooled, making a mockery of state compulsory education laws. No states have laws that would prevent the teaching of hate curricula.

“As more states adopt laws that fund unregulated radical schooling arrangements, we must ensure that children’s emotional and physical well-being are guarded. While we cannot protect children from those parents who would fill their minds and hearts with hate, we can at least ensure that our tax dollars are not supporting such instruction,” Burris concluded.

The use of public funds to support extremist and anti-social agendas, unfortunately, has a long track record for the privatization community, especially as today’s unpopular modern school vouchers being pushed in legislatures across the country have evolved from the segregationist reaction to the Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court ruling.

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 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:

Crooks & Liars found this story from Tennessee in Law & Crime about the principal of a Christian school who has been arrested twice for allegations of sex with minors.

This is of interest because Governor Bill Lee has made it a priority to bring charter schools and vouchers to his state, which would reduce public oversight of school employees. In the case of vouchers,there are typically no state regulations for certification or background checks.

Law&Crime reports:

A 47-year-old principal at a Christian private school in Tennessee was arrested for the second time in less than a year over allegations that he engaged in illegal sexual activity with multiple minors. Jason Kennedy was taken into custody last week and charged with four counts of sexual battery by an authority figure, two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child, one count of aggravated sexual battery, and one count of solicitation of a minor to observe sexual conduct, records reviewed by Law&Crime show.

Kennedy was the principal and a teacher at Liberty Christian School when he was initially arrested in August and charged with two counts of sexual assault by an authority figure and one count of solicitation of a minor.

Brittney Branham, a 28-year-old secretary and homeschool coordinator at Liberty, was also arrested in August and charged with one count of solicitation of a minor in connection with the same series of incidents that allegedly took place inside Kennedy’s home, where Branham was also a resident, according to a report from Knoxville NBC affiliate WBIR-TV.

It really is better for all if teachers and principals are educated, certified, and subject to background checks.

Numerous states controlled by Republicans want to “let the money follow the child” to any place, without regulation or oversight or accountability. This is not in the best interest of children, society, or education.

It gets tiresome to read about the cheats, liars, grifters, and dishonorable people who rise to wealth and power. Thus it is a relief to read about a young woman who had neither wealth nor power, but something far more powerful: a moral core. A sure sense of right and wrong. Principles. Others could boldly lie or feign ignorance when testifying under oath. She couldn’t do it. She wanted to be able to look herself in the mirror every day without grimacing.

Ruth Marcus, the deputy editor of The Washington Post, wrote about her, a woman with more wealth and power than those she served because she has a clear conscience.

After I read the column below, I read the transcript of Cassidy’s interview with the January 6 Committee. She goes through the details of how she changed from a loyal partisan of Trump world to a renegade, more concerned with telling the truth than pleasing her handlers. She was without a job for a year, and she relied on a Trump world lawyer. He advised her to say as little as possible in answer to the Committee’s questions and to answer whenever possible, “I don’t recall.” He and others in Trump’s entourage promised to get her a good job, to take care of her, as long as she protects the team. They flattered her and told her that she’s doing a good job, she’s a member of the family, and they will always have her back. So much of it sounds like something out of The Sopranos. She wants to please them, but she also wants to tell the truth. At one point, as she is doing her best to please them, she admits that she is “disgusted” with herself.

A cynic might wonder why she had so many qualms about lying for a president who lied repeatedly every day. But then you remind yourself that she’s a young kid, not long out of college, working in a dream job. Of course she wanted to please her superiors in Trump world. Of course she was afraid that they would destroy her if she defected. But somewhere inside her was a moral core that required her to tell the truth.

Marcus wrote:

Cassidy Hutchinson knew better than to put herself in debt to what she called “Trump world.” As she would later testify, “Once you are looped in, especially financially with them, there is no turning back.”

But Hutchinson, who witnessed the final days of the Trump White House from her all-access perch as an aide to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, had been subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 select committee. The deadline for turning over documents was looming, and Hutchinson was, she said, “starting to freak out.” One lawyer she consulted said he could assist — then demanded a $150,000 retainer.

So, the young aide, out of work since Donald Trump had left office a full year earlier, initially decided to turn to Trump world for help. Which is how she came to receive a phone call from Stefan Passantino, previously a lawyer in the Trump White House counsel’s office.

“We have you taken care of,” he told Hutchinson. When she asked who would be paying the bills, Passantino demurred — this despite legal ethics rules that let attorneys accept payment from third parties but only with the “informed consent” of their client.

“If you want to know at the end, we’ll let you know, but we’re not telling people where funding is coming from right now,” Hutchinson, in her deposition, recalled him saying. “Like, you’re never going to get a bill for this, so if that’s what you’re worried about.”

If Hutchinson’s live testimony before the select committee was riveting, her deposition testimony, taken several months later and released Thursday, is a page-turner: The Godfather meets John Grisham meets “All the President’s Men.” Before, we could only imagine how frightening the situation must have been for the 20-something Trump staffer. Now, we can read of her frantic search for help, and her terror as she contemplated telling the truth.

It is a tale, at least in Hutchinson’s telling, of Trump allies dangling financial support in exchange for unyielding loyalty. “We’re gonna get you a really good job in Trump world. You don’t need to apply other places,” Passantino assured Hutchinson. “We’re gonna get you taken care of. We’re going to keep you in the family.” The goal, as he set it out, was clear: “We just want to focus on protecting the President.”

It’s a story of meek compliance enforced by fear of consequences — and menacing admonitions to remain on board. “They will ruin my life, Mom, if I do anything they don’t want me to do,” Hutchinson told her mother when she offered congratulations about finally securing a lawyer.

The night before her second interview with the committee, an aide to Meadows called Hutchinson about her former boss: “Mark wants me to let you know that he knows you’re loyal and he knows you’ll do the right thing tomorrow and that you’re going to protect him and the boss. You know, he knows that we’re all on the same team and we’re all a family.”

Most vividly, it is a chilling account of questionable legal ethics practiced by Passantino who, in a plot twist worthy of a Hollywood scriptwriter, was the Trump White House’s chief ethics officer. Passantino is depicted repeatedly advising Hutchinson to fall back on an asserted failure to remember anything. “The less you remember, the better.”

Except Hutchinson did remember — and quite a lot. Such as the incident in the presidential limousine, as related to Hutchinson by deputy chief of staff Tony Ornato, in which an enraged Trump allegedly lunged at his lead Secret Service agent when he refused to take the president to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

When Hutchinson mentioned this episode to Passantino shortly before her first interview with the committee, “he’s like, ‘No, no, no, no, no. We don’t want to go there. We don’t want to talk about that.’” The committee, he said, “have no way of knowing that. … But just because he told you doesn’t mean that you need to share it with them.”

Deposition prep with Passantino seemed confined less to reviewing the facts than to instructing the witness in the art of declining to disclose them. “He was like, ‘Well, if you had just overheard conversations that happened, you don’t need to testify to that,’” Hutchinson said.

“Stefan never told me to lie,” she told the committee. “He specifically told me, ‘I don’t want you to perjure yourself, but “I don’t recall” isn’t perjury. They don’t know what you can and can’t recall.’” Hutchinson pressed him on this matter. “I said, ‘But, if I do recall something but not every little detail, Stefan, can I still say I don’t recall?’ And he had said, ‘Yes.’”

A week later, appearing before the panel, Hutchinson found herself peppered with questions about the Trump limousine incident. She kept saying she hadn’t heard anything like that — and Passantino sat silently by as his client offered testimony he knew to be false.

“I just lied,” a rattled Hutchinson told Passantino during a break. “And he said, ‘They don’t know what you know, Cassidy. They don’t know that you can recall some of these things. So you saying “I don’t recall” is an entirely acceptable response to this.’”

No, no, no. Lawyers advise their clients not to volunteer information — that’s appropriate. They instruct them to give limited answers, confined to the precise scope of the question — that’s appropriate, too.

But lawyers — at least lawyers who want to keep their law license — do not provide the kind of counsel that Hutchinson describes. There is no “overheard” or “I don’t recall” loophole if, in fact, you did hear something and you do remember it. Ominously for Passantino, the deposition transcript reveals that Hutchinson provided the same information to the Justice Department.

Passantino, who has taken a leave of absence from his law firm to “deal with the distraction of this matter,” said in a statement that he represented Hutchinson “honorably, ethically, and fully consistent with her sole interests as she communicated them to me” and believed she “was being truthful and cooperative with the Committee throughout the several interview sessions in which I represented her.”

In the end, Hutchinson decided she could not accept such advice and still look at herself in the mirror. So, she dumped Passantino and decided to spill what she knew to congressional investigators.

“To be blunt, I was kind of disgusted with myself,” Hutchinson said. “I became somebody I never thought that I would become.”

To read her deposition is to wonder: What do the others in the Trump crowd see when they look in the mirror?

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.”

Back in 2014, a prominent charter school leader in Connecticut resigned after it was revealed that he had been convicted of felonies many years earlier, and that he did not have a doctorate, although he claimed he did. Michael Sharpe resigned as CEO of Jumoke Academy, which ran charter schools in Connecticut and planned to expand to Louisiana.

Sharpe was part of a management organization called Family Urban Schools of Excellence or FUSE, created in 2012. The state had given millions of dollars to Jumoke to take over low-performing schools and turn them around.

The controversy over Sharpe was embarrassing to Democratic Governor Dannell Malloy, who was a cheerleader for charter schools. Malloy chose Stefan Pryor to be the State Commissioner of Education. Pryor had no experience in the classroom but was a co-founder of the no-excuses charter chain Achievement First. Charter schools in the state were allowed to have only 30% of their staff with state certification. The charter industry was strong in Connecticut due to the financial power of hedge funders and the Sackler Family (of opioid fame), which launched Conn-CAN, a charter advocacy group, which became the national 50CAN.

But the biggest scandal of all came to light in the past week, when the same Michael Sharpe was convicted of breaking into the homes of four women in 1984, kidnapping them, threatening the women with a firearm, sexually assaulting them, then stealing money and valuables.

Sharpe was convicted of kidnapping and faces a sentence of 25-100 years in prison. The statute of limitations had expired on the sexual assault charges. Sharpe’s DNA was found at the four scenes. The case was solved by the state’s cold case unit.

Back in the days of his charter fame, the Center for Education Reform identified him as a national leader.

Dr. Sharpe is president of the Connecticut Charter School Association and founding member of the Legacy Project and Family Urban Schools of Excellence (FUSE). He also sits on the boards of the National Charter School Leadership Council, St. Agnes Home, Inc., the CT Chapter of Lupus Foundation of America and Connecticut Landmarks.

Dr. Sharpe began work at Jumoke Academy in 1998 and was appointed its CEO in 2003. Under his leadership, Jumoke Academy’s middle and elementary schools were cited for three consecutive years as one of the top ten performing urban schools in the State of Connecticut.

Jumoke Academy is committed to developing the whole child, and as such, offers programs that ensure our children become competent in the arts, humanities, civic and social responsibilities, and that they understand the value and importance of good character.

In 2015, after Sharpe had resigned, civil rights attorney Wendy Lecker wrote about the strange trajectory of Jumoke Academy, FUSE, and Michael Sharpe.

Earlier this month, the Connecticut Department of Education quietly distributed a scathing investigative report on the Jumoke/FUSE charter chain, conducted by a law firm the department retained. The report reads like a manual on how to break every rule of running a non-profit organization.

The investigators found that although FUSE and Jumoke were supposed to be two separate, tax-exempt organizations, both were run by Michael Sharpe alone. FUSE, formed in 2012, never held board of directors’ meetings until after the public revelations in the spring of 2014 of Michael Sharpe’s felony record for embezzlement and falsification of his academic credentials. FUSE entered into contracts with the state to run two public schools without approval by its board. In fact, it is unclear that FUSE even had a board of directors then. Jumoke, too, played fast and loose with board meetings. Jumoke’s board gave Sharpe “unfettered control” over every aspect of the organization. Even after he left Jumoke for FUSE, Sharpe still ran Jumoke, leaving day-to-day operations to his nephew, an intern there.

Hiring and background checks were in Sharpe’s sole discretion. He placed ex-convicts in the two public schools run by Jumoke, Hartford’s Milner and Bridgeport’s Dunbar. Dunbar’s principal, brought in by Sharpe, was recently arraigned on charges of stealing more than $10,000 from the school.

Nepotism was “rampant.” Sharpe’s mother founded Jumoke. Sharpe moved from paraprofessional to CEO in 2003, with no additional training. His unqualified daughter and nephew were hired, as well as his sister.

The investigation found extreme comingling of funds and of financial and accounting activities, noting that it “would be difficult to construct a less appropriate financial arrangement between two supposedly separate organizations.”

Jumoke/FUSE used state money to engage in aggressive real estate acquisition, some not even for educational purposes, and some inexplicably purchased above its appraised value. Properties were collateral and/or were mortgaged for one another. Loan rates were excessive. To date, loans are guaranteed by FUSE, which is not operational.

Jumoke leased Sharpe part of a building who, violating the lease, sublet it and collected rent. Sharpe hired Jumoke’s facilities director’s husband to perform costly renovations on the parts of the building, his bedroom and bathroom, paid by Jumoke.

These are just some of the misdeeds that occurred without oversight by the State Board of Education or the State Department of Education. The board approved contracts to run two public schools without verifying that FUSE had no board of directors. It approved millions to be paid to FUSE/Jumoke to buy non-educational buildings, charge excessive consulting fees to public schools and engage in possibly fraudulent activities. Worse still, the board allowed Jumoke/FUSE to run Milner schoolinto the ground, jeopardizing the education of Milner’s vulnerable students.

“Dr. Sharpe’s” Linked-In profile has not been updated. It’s very impressive.

Many Twitter users are fearful for the future of the popular social media site since it was purchased by Elon Musk. He is taking the company private and will be the sole proprietor. He has said he is an absolutist on free speech, which raises questions about whether he will tolerate hate speech, lies, propaganda, anti-vaxxers, disinformation, even Donald Trump, who was permanently banned from Twitter for inciting violence.

Now, the concern about Musk was stoked when he retweeted gossip from a free weekly (the Santa Monica Observer) that Paul Pelosi was drunk, high on drugs, and got into a fight with a man he picked up at a gay bar.

Musk posted that there was a “tiny possibility” that this was true. As readers began to react with incredulity that the new owner would spread unsubstantiated gossip, Musk deleted his tweet. Musk has 112 million followers on Twitter.

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote:

Musk responded Sunday at 5:15 a.m. Pacific time with a tweet that said, “There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye,” and posted a link to a baseless, anti-LGBTQ article in the Santa Monica Observer. By 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the message and link had been retweeted more than 30,000 times and liked more than 110,000 times, before being deleted less than an hour later.

Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Santa Monica Observer was “notorious for publishing false news,” and once claimed “that Hillary Clinton had died and that a body double had been sent to debate Donald Trump.”

Axios posted that the Santa Monica Observer is not a trustworthy site.

Why it matters: Musk linked to an article from the Santa Monica Observer, a website known for years for publishing false stories.

  • The site “is anything but trustworthy,” according to an executive at NewsGuard, a company that uses trained journalists to rate news and information sites.
  • The site has a trust score of 44.5 out of 100 points on NewsGuard’s rating scale for trustworthiness, due to repeatedly publishing numerous conspiracy theories and false claims about politics, the pandemic and more.
  • The site gets a red-rating and a warning for readers that says: “Proceed with caution: This website fails to adhere to several basic journalistic standards.”

Responsible people in the media fact-check. Musk didn’t think it was necessary. This does not bode well for the future of Twitter.

We have had our fill of conspiracy theories in the past six years.

It’s awful to think that the sole owner of Twitter will be a dupe for conspiracy theories and gossip and spread them to his millions of readers.

Just for laughs, read this article in The Intercept, which predicts that Elon Musk will regret his purchase of Twitter.

It begins:

ELON MUSK (and his consortium of much smaller investors) now owns Twitter. We need to take seriously the possibility that this will end up being one of the funniest things that’s ever happened.

That’s because as of this moment, it looks like Musk dug a big hole in the forest, carefully filled it with punji sticks and crocodiles, and then jumped in.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General conducted an in-depth audit of the federal Charter Schools Program, which was initiated in 1994 with a few million dollars by the Clinton administration. Thanks to astute lobbying by the charter industry, the modest program grew to $440 million a year with little or no accountability. Betsy DeVos pushed it aggressively to large charter chains, including for-profit chains.

You will be interested in this account of the audit, written by Valerie Strauss on her blog “The Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post, introducing an analysis by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education.

This audit demonstrates the power and persistence of the Network for Public Education, a small but smart advocate for public schools. NPE operates with one full-time employee and a small number of part-time employees. Our work is motivated not by greed but by idealism and a passionate commitment to the common good. We believe in well-funded schools with experienced teachers for all children.

The introduction by by Strauss and the analysis by Burris has many links, but none transferred when I copied it. I copied some, but not all of them. I urge you to open the original and find the links.

Strauss begins:

The U.S. Education Department’s Office of Inspector General has released a new audit of the federal Charter School Program that found some alarming results about how charter school networks have used millions of dollars in funding. Among other things, the audit found 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. This piece looks at the new audit and what it tells us.

The reason this is not surprising is that investigations into the Charter School Programs by the Network for Public Education, an advocacy group that opposes the growth of charter schools, found that same problem, as well as others and reported it a few years ago. You can read my stories about their “Asleep at the Wheel” here and here. (The second report noted that the state with the most charter schools that never opened was Michigan, home to former education secretary Betsy DeVos, who has pushed to expand charter schools for decades.)

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately managed. The federal charter program, which began in 1994 with the aim of expanding high-quality charters, had bipartisan support for years, but many Democrats have pulled back from the movement, citing the fiscal impact on school districts and repeated scandals in the sector. The Biden administration is making some changes to the program in an effort to stop waste and fraud and provide more transparency to the operation of charters.

This piece was written by Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and a former award-winning principal in New York. She has been chronicling the charter school movement and the standardized-test-based accountability movement on this blog for years. 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.

By Carol Burris

A new report issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) entitled “The Effectiveness of Charter School Programs in Increasing the Number of Charter Schools” documents how states, charter management organizations, and charter developers often make wildly exaggerated claims regarding the number of charter schools they will open or expand to secure large grants.

The OIG, an independent watchdog of the U.S. Department of Education (the Department), found that for grants issued between 2013 and 2016, only 51 percent of the schools promised by Charter School Programs (CSP) recipients opened or expanded.

The OIG audit also exposed the sloppy record keeping and weak oversight that characterize CSP operations. Since 2006, the department has paid a private corporation, WestEd, millions of dollars to compile, check and update CSP records. WestEd’s present CSP contract exceeds $12 million. In total, WestEd has active contracts with the U.S. Department of Education worth more than $27.6 million. Yet an alarming number of grant records could not be found when requested by the OIG auditors. And while the Biden administration is attempting to clean up and reform the CSP, according to the independent OIG, more work needs to be done.

What did the Office of the Inspector General audit?
The audit had three goals. The first was to describe how the department’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education tracked and reported the number of charter schools that opened and expanded using Charter School Program funds. A second goal was to determine whether CSP grant recipients actually delivered the number of charter schools they promised when they applied for their often multimillion dollar awards. Finally, the audit sought to determine how many schools were still open two years after CSP funding ended.

As its title stated, the audit was an attempt to measure the program’s effectiveness in fulfilling its mission. To conduct the audit, the OIG examined 2013 through 2016 CSP grant records. During that period, the department awarded 103 CSP grants to states, charter management organizations, or individual charter developers. Ninety-four were closely investigated by the OIG. The likely reason these years were chosen was that most grants are for five years. The auditors also found that the department often extends them further when grantees have not spent all of their money. Therefore, more recent grants were excluded because records were likely to be incomplete.

Incomplete and inaccurate records

The auditors noted that while the department, through WestEd, tracked spending and schools while grants were open, the tracking stopped as soon as the grant was complete. Therefore, the department had no way of knowing whether schools remained open beyond the years federal funds propped them up. This speaks to the purpose of the program — to open and expand high-quality charter schools.

When auditors asked the department to define the term high-quality, the department responded that the “CSP office does not determine whether a charter school is high-quality because state rules for determining high quality vary.”

“Additionally,” it said, “the determination of whether a charter school is a high quality is often the responsibility of charter school authorizers.” The department also told auditors that tracking a school’s existence after all money was doled out was not its job.

Even if the department wanted to do a quality check of schools as they were funding and expanding, the OIG found that there was no accurate base of information that they could rely on to determine whether they should continue what was often a multimillion-dollar grant. From the audit:

Although the CSP office created processes for tracking and reporting on charter schools that opened and expanded and charter schools that remained open through the grant performance period end date, those processes did not result in CSP grant recipients reporting precise, reliable, and timely information in their FPRs [final performance reports], APRs [annual performance reports], and data collection forms. The processes also did not result in the CSP office receiving all the necessary information to assess grant recipients’ performance or evaluate the overall effectiveness of the CSP.

Specifically, the department could not produce 13 percent of the required final reports from grantees and 43 percent of the required final data collection sheets. Auditors noted that grantees would report different numbers of schools opened or expanded among required collection forms and final reports. The accuracy of the final documents prepared by WestEd for the department was beyond the scope of the audit.

During our research for our second “Asleep at the Wheel” report, we found that the data collection sheets produced by WestEd and published in 2019 by then Education Secretary Betsy De Vos were replete with errors. Schools that had closed or never opened were reported as open or future. We also noted inaccuracies in recently submitted sheets we received from a Freedom of Information Act request, especially relating to the for-profit management status of the awardee.

But the OIG discovered a far worse problem yet. More than half of the schools that grantees committed to opening or expanding did not open or expand at all.

CSP grantees failed to meet commitments
Grant applicants asked for and received millions of dollars based on their promises to open and expand charter schools. However, when the auditors examined 94 grantee applications, they found that many grantees fell far short of their commitments.

The OIG determined that based on the commitments made in the 94 applications, state education agencies, CMOs, and developers promised to open or expand 1,570 charter schools using CSP funds.

As of July 2021, approximately 75 percent of the grant funding had been spent, yet grantees had only opened or expanded 51 percent of the charters they had promised.

This begs the question, where did millions of tax dollars go? I identified grantees by matching applications on the department website along with numbers in the data set with grant codes in the OIG report.

In its 2016 CSP application, the Florida Department of Education put forth what it called a “bold and ambitious plan to … develop a high-impact system to dramatically improve the opportunities of educationally disadvantaged students. The department said that it would use the grant to “support the creation of 200 new high-quality charter schools over the next five years.”

Florida received $70.7 million to achieve its “bold and ambitious” plan. According to the OIG report, it had only opened 33 percent — or 66 — of the schools it promised to open as of July 2021, although it had spent over 51 percent of the CSP funds.

Colorado’s 2015 application promised that it would open 72 charter schools with its over 24.2 million dollar grant. In the end, it opened fewer than half — just 33 — and expanded three schools. Nevertheless, it spent 87.5 percent of its funds.

Tennessee ambitiously promised to open 114 charter schools. It opened just 16, though it managed to spend 63 percent of its grant. These states are not outliers. The report shows a pattern.

And CMOs also failed to deliver. The KIPP charter network promised 65 schools for its jumbo $48,750,000 grant, one that well exceeded most states. It delivered 34 schools and expanded one.

Finally, there are grants to developers that the department directly provides. The Innovation Development Corporation received a $405,730 CSP grant to open The Delaware Met. It was open for just a few months before it was shut down. It also received and spent $72,000 to open DE Stem. That school was shut down before it even opened. Willow Public School, a Washington charter school, took and spent a $602,875 grant, opened, ran into trouble, changed its name, and then shut down.

The department and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools attribute the problem to authorizer reluctance and state caps on the number of schools that can open. Really? Every state that got a grant has a state board that can override local rejections of applications. State applicants and the department are also well aware of caps. Take the case of the 2018 $78,888,888 CSP grant to the New York State Department of Education, which was outside the scope of the OIG audit.

In the New York State application review, which you can find here, raters acknowledge that New York State had not even used up its previous grant which was open beyond its terms and that charter expansion would be limited by the state cap on the number of charters. Yet they gave the application high scores, and it was approved. Where did that 2018 money go? Over $10 million went to provide staff development in technology for charter schools.

Jumbo grants

Why do states and charter management organizations ask for jumbo grants knowing they cannot deliver? Because they want the money to fund their charter school operations.

States and charter management organizations get to keep 10 percent of the cut for grant administration and technical assistance to charter schools. The bigger the grant, the bigger the cut.

Therefore, KIPP was allowed to keep nearly $5 million for its charter management organization, even though it fell way short of its commitment. The Florida Department of Education secured over $7 million for administrative services on its grant.
Second, there are no guidelines about how much an individual charter school can get. We have seen grants as low as $250,000 and grants to schools of $1.5 million. When a state realizes it cannot or will not meet its commitment, it just doles out larger amounts.

Third, until President Biden, no prior administration did anything about it over the Charter School Program’s existence. Therefore, states, CMOs, and individual schools realized pretty quickly that they could create grandiose applications, sometimes including falsehoods, and there would be no real consequences if commitments were never met.

The present department has taken a terrible beating for creating modest CSP reform regulations which are still being fought by the charter trade organizations and their proxies, including the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a charter school authorizer. Challenges include both a lawsuit and a Republican-sponsored bill to overturn the new rules.

But as the OIG audit shows, reforms are desperately needed.


In case you missed it, asi did, CNN will rerun its special about the two billionaires who are trying to buy control of Texas—this Friday night.

Ed Lavandera, one of the producers, tweeted:

So many of you have asked how to re-watch #DeepInThePocketsofTexas on @CNN, the program will re-air this Friday night July 29th, 11pmET/10pmCT.

Thank goodness for independent media! Oklahoma Watch published an investigative report that detailed a secret slush fund that supplements the salary of the state Secretary of Education.

(This story was produced in partnership with the Oklahoma nonprofit newsroom The Frontier.)

Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed legislation that would have required cabinet members to file public reports to disclose their finances.

If Stitt had signed the bill last month, Oklahomans would learn that Secretary of Education Ryan Walters makes at least $120,000 a year as executive director of a nonprofit organization that keeps its donors secret. Walters is also paid about $40,000 a year by the state, according to state payroll data.

The nonprofit, Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, has refused to disclose its largest donors.

But a joint investigation by The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch has found that much of the organization’s funds come from national school privatization and charter school expansion advocates, including the Walton Family Foundation and an education group founded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch.

As Secretary of Education, Walters serves as Stitt’s top advisor on public education policy and is the governor’s liaison for dozens of state boards and programs.

Walters’ outside employment with a nonprofit funded by advocacy groups could be a conflict of interest, said Delaney Marsco, senior attorney for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit group that focuses on government transparency and accountability.

“If you are responsible for making decisions in a certain area of the government and you are being paid by an outside organization that has an interest in that, that absolutely can be a conflict of interest,” Marsco said. “If you are a public servant, your duty is to the public, and anything that kind of calls that into question, even raises the appearance of a conflict of interest, is a problem.”

Under Walters’ leadership, Every Kid Counts Oklahoma was the public face of Stitt’s program that distributed $1,500 grants to families in 2020 funded with $8 million in federal coronavirus relief money. The money was intended to buy tutoring and educational supplies. But a lack of safeguards allowed parents to use some of the funds to buy TVs, gaming consoles and home appliances, an investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found. Emails and other recordsshow that Walters helped secure the no-bid contract with a Florida company to distribute the money. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has opened an audit into how the state used those funds.

Walters, who declined multiple interview requests, is now running for state superintendent, an elected position overseeing the state Department of Education and a budget of over $3 billion. Unlike in federal elections, candidates for state office in Oklahoma are not required to fill out financial disclosures until after they are elected.

Please open the link and read on.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote a fascinating column about Steve Schmidt’s recent revelations about important political figures. Like the good historian she is, she connects the dots.

At home, a big story broke over the weekend, reminding us that the ties of the Republican Party to Russians and the effect of those ties on Ukraine reach back not just to former president Trump, but at least to the 2008 presidential campaign of Arizona senator John McCain.

Late Saturday night, political strategist Steve Schmidt, who worked on a number of Republican political campaigns including McCain’s when he ran for president in 2008, began to spill what he knows about that 2008 campaign. Initially, this accounting took the form of Twitter threads, but on Sunday, Schmidt put the highlights into a post on a Substack publication called The Warning. The post’s title distinguished the author from those journalists and members of the Trump administration who held back key information about the dangerous behavior in Trump’s White House in order to include it in their books. The post was titled: “No Books. No Money. Just the Truth.”

Schmidt left the Republican Party in 2018, tweeting that by then it was “fully the party of Trump. It is corrupt, indecent and immoral. With the exception of a few governors…it is filled with feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party’s greatest leaders…. Today the GOP has become a danger to our democracy and our values.” Schmidt helped to start The Lincoln Project, designed to sink Trump Republicans through attack ads and fundraising, in late 2019.

The apparent trigger for Schmidt’s accounting was goading from McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain, a sometime media personality who, after years of slighting Schmidt, recently called him a pedophile, which seems to have been a reference to the fact that a colleague with whom Schmidt started The Lincoln Project was accused of online sexual harassment of men and boys. Schmidt resigned over the scandal.

Schmidt was fiercely loyal to Senator McCain and had stayed silent for years over accusations that he was the person who had chosen then–Alaska governor Sarah Palin as McCain’s vice presidential candidate, lending legitimacy to her brand of uninformed fire-breathing radicalism, and about his knowledge of McCain’s alleged affair with a lobbyist.

In his tweetstorm, Schmidt set the record straight, attributing the choice of Palin to McCain’s campaign director and McCain himself, and acknowledging that the New York Times had been correct in the reporting of McCain’s relationship with the lobbyist, despite the campaign’s angry denial.

More, though, Schmidt’s point was to warn Americans that the mythmaking that turns ordinary people into political heroes makes us unwilling to face reality about their behavior and, crucially, makes the media unwilling to tell us the truth about it. As journalist Sarah Jones wrote in PoliticusUSA, Schmidt’s “broader point is how we, as Americans, don’t like to be told the truth and how our media so loves mythology that they work to deliver lies to us instead of holding the powerful accountable.”

Schmidt’s biggest reminder, though, was that the director of the 2008 McCain campaign was Richard (Rick) Davis, a founding partner of Davis Manafort, the political consulting firm formed in 1996. By 2003, the men were representing pro-Russia Ukrainian oligarch Viktor Yanukovych; in July 2004, U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov was murdered in Moscow for exposing Russian government corruption; and in June 2005, Manafort proposed that he would work for Putin’s government in former Soviet republics, Europe, and the United States by influencing politics, business dealings, and news coverage.

From 2004 to 2014, Manafort worked for Yanukovych and his party, trying to make what the U.S. State Department called a party of “mobsters and oligarchs” look legitimate. In 2016, Manafort went on to lead Donald Trump’s campaign, and the ties between him, the campaign, and Russia are well known. Less well known is that in 2008, Manafort’s partner Rick Davis ran Republican candidate John McCain’s presidential campaign.

Schmidt writes that McCain turned a blind eye to the dealings of Davis and Manafort, apparently because he was distracted by the fallout when the story of his personal life hit the newspapers. Davis and Manafort were making millions by advancing Putin’s interests in Ukraine and eastern Europe, working for Yanukovych and Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Schmidt notes that “McCain spent his 70th birthday with Oleg Deripaska and Rick Davis on a Russian yacht at anchor in Montenegro.”

“There were two factions in the campaign,” Schmidt tweeted, “a pro-democracy faction and…a pro Russia faction,” led by Davis, who—like Manafort—had a residence in Trump Tower. It was Davis who was in charge of vetting Palin.

McCain was well known for promising to stand up to Putin, and Palin’s claim that she could counter the growing power of Russia in part because “[t]hey’re our next-door neighbors, and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska” became a long-running joke (the comment about seeing Russia from her house came from a Saturday Night Live skit).

But a terrific piece in The Nation by Mark Ames and Ari Berman in October 2008 noted: “He may talk tough about Russia, but John McCain’s political advisors have advanced Putin’s imperial ambitions.” The authors detailed Davis’s work to bring the Balkan country of Montenegro under Putin’s control and concluded that either McCain “was utterly clueless while his top advisers and political allies ran around the former Soviet domain promoting the Kremlin’s interests for cash, or he was aware of it and didn’t care.”

Trump’s campaign and presidency, along with Putin’s deadly assault on Ukraine, puts into a new light the fact that McCain’s campaign manager was Paul Manafort’s business partner all the way back in 2008.

Note: Richardson has a list of sources at the end of her post. For some unknown reason, WordPress did not permit me to copy her notes. I inserted some but not all. Open the post to check the links.