Archives for category: U.S. Department of Education

In the late 1980s, the charter idea was brand new. AFT President Albert Shanker thought that charter schools would develop innovative ways to help the students who struggled the most in schools. He envisioned charter schools as “research and development schools” that would learn new ways of reaching the most disaffected and turned off students. He saw them as laboratories created by teachers that would first get the permission of the entire school staff at a regular public school, then get the endorsement of the local school board. In his vision, charter schools would be part of the public school system, cooperating with public schools to share whatever they learned. He also saw them as unionized schools. He imagined them getting a charter for 3-5 years, showing what they learned, then being reabsorbed into the regular public schools if they had finished their mission.

His vision did not include for-profit charter schools. He imagined collaboration between public schools and charter schools, not competition. He did not imagine charter schools run by private corporations. He did not imagine charter schools as privately managed schools run by corporations, chains, or non-educators.

When he realized that the charter idea had been corrupted by privatizers and that they had become a means of breaking teachers’ unions, he turned against charters and concluded that they were no different from vouchers. To Al Shanker, they had turned into a first step on the road to privatizing public education.

Back before the disillusionment set in, the Clinton administration authorized a federal Charter Schools Program to fund the opening of new charter schools; federal dollars were needed to jumpstart more charter schools. At its inception in 1994, the new program had a few million dollars. At the time, there were only a few hundred charter schools in the nation.

Since 1994, the federal Charter Schools Program has grown to a yearly expenditure of $440 million under the astute encouragement of the charter lobby, but between one-third and 40% of the charters funded by the federal government either never open at all or close within a couple of years. The number of failed federally funded charters has grown even larger in the past few years, as Carol Burris’s letter below documents (also see here and here.)

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are now nearly 8,000 charter schools in the nation, enrolling 7.5% of all public school students. (Of course, opinions are sharply divided about whether charter schools are “public” schools, since they are not overseen by elected school boards and court decisions usually rule that charters, unlike public schools, are “not state actors.”)

The time has come to ask, why is the federal government still paying to launch new charter schools? The charter sector seems to be multiplying quite well without federal aid. It is now typical for charter schools to accept not the neediest students, but the most promising ones. They drain students and resources from the public schools, which enroll nearly 90% of students. With so many deep-pocketed backers in the philanthropic sector and on Wall Stree (Walton, Gates, Bloomberg, and a never of hedge funders)t, why do new charters need federal aid?

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, recently wrote a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten, and Deputy Assistant Adam Schott, calling on the US. Department of Education to stop funding the federal Charter Schools Program.

I ask you, dear readers, to send a similar letter to urge the end to funding a failed federal program that is no longer necessary, if it ever was.

Here is Carol Burris’s letter:

Secretary Miguel Cardona (

Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten (

Deputy Assistant Adam Schott (

Dear Secretary Cardona, Deputy Secretary Marten, and Deputy Assistant Schott:

On behalf of the 350,000 Network for Public Education members, I am writing to ask that you do not fund the Federal Charter School Programs in the FY 2024 budget. Here are the reasons why.

First, enrollment in charter schools between 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 declined by 5,323 students. That decline was identified using NCES data. The “surge” in charter enrollment was predominantly in low-quality online schools during the prior year. The need for more charter schools is not there. 

Second, a recent program audit by the Department’s Office of the Inspector General report found that of the grants issued between 2013 and 2016, only 51% of the schools promised by CSP recipients opened or expanded. 

Third, there has not been an opportunity to find out whether or not the new regulations are, in fact, being properly implemented by the State Entities and the CMOs. 

The nearly half-billion dollars saved can be used to reduce the budget deficit or, better yet, to fund our public schools.

Thank you for taking the time to read this email, for the courage to withstand the pressures to back down on the new regulations, and for all that you do for our children every day.

Carol Burris

Executive Director

The Network for Public Education

The 74 Million—a news site funded by charter supporters and billionaires—reports that Rep. Hakeem Jeffries will downplay his support for charter schools now that he is Minority Leader of House Democrats. Charters have lost ground among Democrats, and Jeffries wants to unite the party. Importantly, he doesn’t want to alienate the teachers’ unions, which are an important part of the Democratic Party’s base.

Most Democratic members of Congress realized that charters were a step towards vouchers, and that both were deeply embedded in the Trump MAGA agenda.

For a time, during the Obama years, Obama and his Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sold charters as a “progressive” idea that would nurture innovation. After thirty years, the charter claims dimmed. Too many scandals, too little innovation. Too many charter chains making profits or paying outlandish salaries. Too many charters that opened and closed within three years. Too many charters that believed harsh discipline was “innovative.”

The charter lobby considered Hakeem Jeffries one of its best friends, but that was before Trump chose Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. She was an outspoken friend of School choice, including charter schools. In recent years, red states have embraced charters and vouchers in their frenzy to privatize public schools and transfer public funding to private organizations.

Now, it’s clear to most Democrats that Republicans own the issue of charters and vouchers, not Democrats.

When Biden’s Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona proposed modest rules to clean up the federal Charter Schools Program, which hands out $440 million a year to start new charter schools, the charter lobby made wild claims about how any accountability would irreparably harm new charters, but Democrats didn’t go along. The usual charter supporters in the Senate—Booker, Bennett, and Feinstein—complained about the new rules, but when the Senate voted on a motion to overturn them, not a single Democrat voted for the motion.

Today, the strongest allies of charter schools in Congress are conservative Republicans, like Virginia Foxx (NC), chair of the House Education Committee.

Not long ago, Secretary of Education Cardona tweeted a deeply offensive comment about schools preparing students to meet the needs of industry. I operate on the assumption that Secretary Cardona has a fairly low-level political appointee, maybe two years out of college, writing his tweet. Chances are he has never written any of his tweets. But they bear his name, so he has to be accountable for what they say.

Mercedes Schneider expresses the feelings that many educators had when they read his unfortunate tweets:

According to his 12/16/22 tweet, US ed sec Miguel Cardona wants education to be in line with the “demands” of corporate America:

“Every student should have access to an education that aligns with industry demands and evolves to meet the demands of tomorrow’s global workforce.”

But he also wants teachers to know that teaching isn’t a job (not a “demand”?) but “an extension of life’s purpose,” which may mean that if corporate America “demands” teachers, then that corporate demand is somehow lofty since it is the demand to teach. (Hard to tell, but a day did pass from one tweet to the next, so new day, new catchphrase?)

“Teaching isn’t a job you hold. It’s an extension of your life’s purpose.”

On Day Three of this alienation-via-slogan, we’re back to tying K12 education (and beyond) to the economy, happily-ever-after for the demanding job market but not so much for the objectified, mail-order bride that is apparently the American high school graduate:

Our work to transform our schools is crucial to creating a strong economic foundation for our country.

It’s time to break down the silos between K-12 systems and college, career, and industry preparation programs. This is how we transform education in this country.

So. If my goal as a teacher of high school seniors is to stuff my kids into projected industry slots, according to 2023 Louisiana Workforce Commission projections, the following jobs are expected to grow by 400 positions or more from 2021 to 2023, and therefore represent the chief industry “demands” of the Pelican State for my Class of 2023 grads:

  • Waiters and Waitresses, 3,028, $8.93/hr.
  • Food Preparation Workers, 2,855, $8.99/hr.
  • Fast Food and Counter Workers, 2,617, $9.28/hr.
  • Home Health and Personal Care Aides, 2,491, $9.04/hr.
  • Cooks, Restaurant, 2,182, $11.58/hr.
  • Cashiers, 2,023, $9.49/hr.
  • Retail Salespersons, 1,908, $11.33/hr.
  • First-line Suoervisors of Food Preparation and Serving Workers, 1,620, $20.61/hr.
  • Labor and Freight, Stock, and Material Movers, Hand, 1,567, $13.15/hr.
  • Registered Nurses, 1,234, $31.84/hr.
  • Stockers and Order Fillers, 1,207, $11.86/hr.
  • Heavy and Tractor Trailer Truck Drivers, 1,131, $20.40/hr.
  • General and Operations Managers, 1,119, $47.62/hr.
  • Nursing Assistants, 1,060, $11.28/hr.
  • Construction Laborers, 961, $16.60/hr.
  • Light Truck or Delivery Service Drivers, 888, $14.81/hr.
  • Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, 860, $20.16/hr.
  • Bartenders, 763, $9.13/hr.
  • Carpenters, 677, $22.26/hr.
  • Lawyers, 664, $44.86/hr.
  • Driver/Sales Workers, 664, $15.00/hr.
  • Electricians, 644, $25.13/hr.
  • First-line Supervisors of Retail Sales Workers, 629, $17.71/hr.
  • Sailors and Marine Oilers, 621, $21.48/hr.
  • First-line Supervisors of Construction Trades and Extraction Workers, 556, $30.59/hr.
  • Dishwashers, 551, $9.60/hr.
  • Cooks, Fast Food, 545, $14.98/hr.
  • Accountants and Auditors, 535, $29.87/hr.
  • Hosts and Hostesses, Restaurant, Lounge, and Coffee Shop, 523, $9.37/hr.
  • Medical Assistants, 469, $14.61/hr.
  • Paralegals and Legal Assistants, 453, $22.73/hr.
  • Receptionists and Information Clerks, 442, $12.78/hr.
  • Security Guards, 426, $15.42/hr.
  • Plumbers, Pipefitters, and Steamfitters, 418, $27.56/hr.
  • Medical and Health Service Managers, 409, $45.58/hr.
  • Office Clerks, General, 409, $12.04/hr.
  • Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Except Scientific and Technical Products, 406, $27.72/hr.

Of the 37 most in-demand 2023 Louisiana jobs listed above, roughly one-third (12) do not exceed $12.00/hr. in median compensation. Moreover, only one-third (again 12) exceed $21.00/hr. (or roughly $42K/yr., assuming 40hrs./wk.) in median compensation.

According to the state’s own projections, it seems that Louisiana’s 2023 market demands the greatest increase in workers subsisting as the working poor.

As for teaching as an “extension of your life’s purpose”: not in Louisiana in 2023. Teaching is projected to hold steady, with those exiting roughly equal to those entering.

But forget the “life’s purpose” lofty verbage. Let’s just go for respect for human beings as human beings and drop the tweets about using people to plug holes in economic demands.

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.”

Steve Hinnefeld, Indiana blogger, recounts the curious trajectory of a fdderally funded tutoring program. To speed things along, the U.S. Department of Education made a no-bid contract with The Mind Trust to find tutors and students. The Mind Trust is known for its role in promoting charter schools. So far, it has signed up 200 students from an eligible pool of more than 50,000.

Indianapolis nonprofit the Mind Trust was awarded a no-bid contract to manage Indiana Learns. It will be paid up to $3 million to run the two-year, $15 million program, according to the contract. The Mind Trust is known for promoting charter schools; it has helped launch 45 charter or innovation network schools in Indianapolis. It also operates Indy Summer Learning Labs with United Way of Central Indiana.

The more charter schools, the worse the shortage of teachers prepared in university education programs. Those in university programs intend to be career educators, and their numbers are shrinking. Thus concludes a new study from a federal research center created to study choice and its effects.

When Betsy DeVos was Secretary of Education, she awarded $10 million to create the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH). The research group is headed by Douglas Harris, and DeVos assumed that he was pro-choice.

While Harris has written papers favorable to choice, he is an independent scholar and follows the data where it leads. In this paper, he and his co-author Mary Penn conclude that charter schools contribute to the teacher shortage.

On its face, the proposition makes sense. If a young person wants to teach, they can get a job in a charter school without a teacher education degree. They can join Teach for America and become a teacher with only weeks of preparation. Or in some states, they can teach with no certification or degrees. Why bother going through the process of professional education and certification when charter schools will hire without any prerequisites?

The summary of the study concludes:

Debates about charter schools center on their immediate effects on students who attend them and how charter schools affect nearby traditional public schools. However, as the charter sector has continued to grow, a broader range of possibly unintended effects become relevant. This study is one of the first to examine the possibility that
charter schools affect the teacher pipeline. We focus specifically on how charter schools affect the number of traditionally prepared teachers who receive a bachelor’s in education.

Using data from 290 school districts with at least one commuter college nearby, we analyze the effect on the traditional teacher pipeline from schools of education. We draw the following conclusions:

Increasing district charter school enrollment by 10% decreases the supply of teachers traditionally prepared with a bachelor’s in education by 13.5-15.2% on average.

Charter-driven reductions in the supply of traditionally prepared teachers are most apparent in elementary, special education, and math education degrees.

This is consistent with the fact that charter schools mostly serve elementary grades, express interest in subject matter experts (e.g., math majors), and are less likely to assign students to special education.

These charter-driven reductions are concentrated in metropolitan areas and are largest among Black teachers.

Given how central teachers are to the educational process, any effect on the teacher pipeline is important. The vast majority of U.S. teachers still come from university-based schools of education, and these teachers stay in the profession longer than those who are not traditionally prepared, which makes these declines note worthy. A larger
point is that charter schools change the entire schooling market in ways we are only beginning to recognize.

The National Education Policy Center reviewed the study here.

Maurice Cunningham, a retired professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts, is a specialist on the subject of Dark Money. That’s money given to a group or campaign where the donor’s name is hidden. His most recent book is Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization.

Cunningham was instrumental in the defeat of a referendum in Massachusetts in 2016 to expand the number of charter schools. Early polling showed it would pass easily. But Cunningham dug into the funders and discovered that the proposition was funded by billionaires, including the Waltons and Bloomberg. He learned of an astroturf parent group called the National Parents Union, funded by the Waltons to promote charters and pretend there was a huge parent demand for them. The proposition was overwhelmingly defeated.

Imagine his surprise when he learned recently that the U.S. Department of Education was creating a Nation Parents & Families Council, and the National Parents Union was a member. He wrote to Secretary Miguel Cardona to express his concern that NPU was a Walton-funded astroturf group whose goal was to discredit public schools and promote charter schools.

He received a boilerplate response from the U.S. Department of Education’s communications office, dismissing his concerns.

Maurice T. Cunningham

Dear Mr. Cunningham,
August 1, 2022

Thank you for your email to Secretary Miguel Cardona regarding National Parents Union (NPU) representation on the Department of Education’s (the Department) National Parents & Families Engagement Council (the Council). Your letter has been forwarded to the Office of Communications and Outreach and I am pleased to respond.
The Department acknowledges your concern and appreciates the in-depth information shared from your research regarding NPU. The Council is an opportunity for the Department to listen, learn and engage families and caregivers and will be a channel for parents and families to constructively participate in their children’s education. The goal of the Council is to be reflective of the diversity of the country and our public schools and the Department is open and accepting of all parent voices.
Again, thank you for your concern regarding organizations participating on the Council. Please know that the Department’s commitment to all parents, and their crucial role in their children’s education, is unwavering. The Secretary and staff here at the Department will continue to not just listen to parents but seek out their counsel and feedback because a school community works best when parents and educators are working together.
Kelly Leon
Press Secretary, Office of Communications and Outreach, Delegated the Authority to Perform the
Functions and Duties of the Assistant Secretary for the Office of Communications and Outreach

Undeterred, Cunningham wrote another letter, going into greater detail.


August 16, 2022

The Honorable Miguel Cardona

Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202

Ms. Kelly Leon, Press Secretary, Office of Communications and Outreach

U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20202

Dear Secretary Cardona and Ms. Leon:

I am in receipt of Ms. Leon’s August 1, 2022 reply to my letter to Secretary Cardona of June 28, 2022 in which I detail some of my research showing that National Parents Union does not belong on the Department of Education’s National Parents and Families Engagement Council. Ms. Leon’s response, which simply recites boilerplate about the council seeking to solicit the views of parent, is disappointing and inadequate. National Parents Union is not a parents’ organization at all. That’s the point.

I would have thought that an organization like NPU that was founded in 2020 and almost immediately received $700,000 in funding from the Vela Education Fund, a joint venture of the Charles Koch Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, might elicit DOE’s curiosity as to NPU’s authenticity. The WFF and individual Walton family members have been involved in school privatization efforts for years. WalMart, the company inherited by the family, is one of the most virulently anti-labor corporations in the world. As the labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein writes, WFF is “the single largest source of funding for the ‘school choice’ movement and a powerful advocate of charter schools and voucher initiatives.” The Waltons’ support for privatization is an entirely ideological project, based on a desire to enhance the social and cultural value of a free market in which government is weak while public goods like . . . education . . . are the fodder for entrepreneurial transformation. . . . Since public schools are by far the most pervasive of public institutions, and highly unionized to boot, this “$700-plus-billion-a-year industry”—John Walton’s phrase—has been a good place to start.

Charles Koch came to K-12 privatization only in recent years, announcing his intentions in a 2018 Koch Seminar in which another Koch network member ($100,000 required simply to attend) called K-12 privatization “low-hanging fruit.” As reported by the Washington Post’s James Hohmann, “Making a long-term play, the billionaire industrialist Charles Koch and his like-minded friends on the right are increasingly focused on melding the minds of the next generation by making massive, targeted investments in both K-12 and higher education.” The Koch network “dreamed . . . of breaking the teachers unions.” Charles Koch, skeptical for years about impacting K-12, had a Koch Industries vice-president named Meredith Olson investigate, and her strategic scheme spurred him on.

Meredith Olson is also important because by June 2019 Koch and WFF (both members of Stand Together) were announcing matching $5 million investments in a joint venture named “4.0”to “transform America’s education system” in their corporate image. Ms. Olson was K-12 Initiative Vice President at Stand Together. More importantly for considering the legitimacy of NPU, Ms. Olson is CEO and a board member of Vela Education Foundation. As her LinkedIn page shows, Ms. Olson is an oil and gas executive. She has no background in or understanding of education. She would have been responsible for the $700,000grant Vela made in August 2020 to NPU—an eight month old organization with no track record in grants administration.

Charles Koch’s “interest” in education was discussed on the podcast “Have You Heard” by Christopher Leonard, author of the best-selling Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America. Leonard described Charles Koch, like the Waltons, as an ideological libertarian. Leonard confirmed Koch’s intense anti-unionism and continued: “when you have public education … one of the biggest problems for the libertarians is that it’s funded through taxes. . . they see taxation truly as a form of of (sic) theft and robbery.” An extensive remark by Leonard is worth your careful consideration:

Know what the blueprint is. The Koch influence machine is multifaceted and complex and I am just telling you in a very honest way, there’s a huge difference between the marketing materials produced by Americans for Prosperity (Koch’s political organization, a parallel to NPU) and the behind the scenes actual politicalphilosophy. There’s a huge difference. And here’s the actual political philosophy. Government is bad. Public education must be destroyed for the good of all American citizens in this view.

So the ultimate goal is to dismantle the public education system entirely and replace it with a privately run education system, which the operatives in this group believe in a sincere way is better for everybody. Now, whether you agree with that or not as the big question, but we cannot have any doubt, there’s going to be a lot of glossy marketing materials about opportunity, innovation, efficiency. At its core though the the (sic) network seeks to dismantle the public education system because they see it as destructive. So that is what’s the actual aim of this group. And don’t let them tell you anything different.

One person who is not fooled by the Koch network’s PR machine is Charles Siler and that is because he was once part of it as a lobbyist and communications expert for the Goldwater Institute and Foundation for Government Accountability. Siler describes his former bosses: “Their ideal is a world with as minimal public infrastructure and investment as possible. They want the weakest and leanest government possible in order to protect the interests of a few wealthy individuals and families . . .” Siler describes one public relations technique as the “human shield.” Privatizers front a vulnerable and politically sympathetic population to protect them from progressive criticisms. They also understand that public schools are enormously popular. Thus, their proxies employ a steady drumbeat of messaging about “failing schools.” The goals are the same: destroy unions, strangle public schools, and privatizeeducation.

National Parents Union is a vehicle for the plans of the Waltons and Charles Koch. It presents as representing parents of color in search of a better life for their children, right out of the playbook Siler describes. The NPU team is drawn from alumni of the failed Families for Excellent Schools/Great Schools Massachusetts operations in New York and Massachusetts and as I explain in Dark Money and the Politics of School Privatization FES was in reality the surrogate for Boston hedge funders and yes, the Waltons. NPU has used the Vela money to fund homeschooling pods that weaken public schools. At nearly every media opportunity, NPU spokespersons parrot the “failing schools” script.

Is there any conceivable reason to believe that National Parents Union is the blessed exception to the Waltons’ and Charles Koch’s laser-like focus on destroying public education? As Siler and Leonard teach us, DOE must ignore the elaborate marketing blitz that NPU can deploy and recognize NPU for what it is: an agent of wealthy libertarians with a wildly different and unpopular prescription for what is good for parents and children.

I understand that the council is on hold pending litigation brought by among others Parents Defending Education. As I explained in my letter of June 28, PDE is also a franchise in Charles Koch’s attack on public education. It is in alliance with Moms for Liberty, created by the right wing directorate Council for National Policy; and with Fight for Schools and Families, also a plaintiff in the litigation and headed by a former Trump administration and Republican Party communications executive. Should PDE prevail in its lawsuit and gain a seat on the council that would give Koch two seats on it. Even Betsy DeVos would blush.

The Department of Education should rescind its offer to National Parents Union to join the National Parents and Families Engagement Council.

Respectfully submitted,

Maurice T. Cunningham

Associate Professor (retired)

Department of Political Science

University of Massachusetts at Boston

cc: The Honorable Martin J. Walsh

Secretary of Labor

You can see the writing on the wall. All the astroturf parent groups will demand a place at the table. They fought masking, they fought vaccines, now they fight teaching about racism and gender, and they demand gag orders and book banning.

Will Secretary Cardona invite them to join his Council?

The Brookings Institution reported on a big increase in federal funding for technical assistance for community schools along with the priorities for funding. Unlike charter schools, community schools operate under the supervision of public school boards; they are not operated or owned by private entrepreneurs; they seek to strengthen public educations, not compete with it or replace it. Unlike the federal Charter Schools Program, which provides $400 million + in start-up funds, the funding for community schools is for technical assistance, not basic costs. The CSP has been riddled by waste, fraud, and abuse, and many federally funded charters never open.

The U.S. Department of Education recently announced a notice inviting applications for the Full-Service Community Schools Program to provide high-quality academic, integrated health and social service, and engagement support for all students. The grant program continues to reflect steady increases in the federal appropriations process from an initial $5 million in fiscal year 2009, to $25 million in 2020, $30 million in 2021, $75 million in 2022, and a proposed substantial increase of $468 million in 2023. The exponential growth in investments signals a consistent interest and confidence in community school strategies as a powerful approach to whole-child educational transformation of schools and communities. Similarly, dedicated state funding opportunities in Maryland, New York, and Californiareflect a growing body of evidence from decades of implementation expertise about how community school strategies—when supported and sustained—can leverage the assets and voices of the full community to support student success.

The Community School Forward national task force welcomes this support of community schools as a strategy to increase youth and community voice, ensure rigorous community-connected instruction, extend learning opportunities and improve school climate, health, and mental health, and college and post-secondary student outcomes. The task force recognizes that while funding is necessary to continue to accelerate the growth of community schools, increasing it alone will not directly result in effective community school partnerships and strategies. High-quality technical assistance must be provided to practitioners. The task force project team developed a national needs assessment to gain a clearer picture of what type of community school technical assistance is needed across the country.


The Children’s Aid National Center for Community Schools (NCCS) is a practice-based technical assistance provider that has supported the startup, scaling, and sustainability of community school initiatives across the country and internationally, NCCS has seen what happens with (and without) strong and consistent guidance and capacity building. We define technical assistance as the process of building the capacity of community school stakeholders to start, scale, and sustain transformational community schools. Informed by a comprehensive needs and assets assessment and guided by a plan jointly developed with the client, technical assistance includes organizing communities of action, facilitating connections, and providing the relevant tools and skills.

In early 2022, in anticipation of technical assistance needs of new and developing community school practitioners, NCCS—in partnership with the Brookings Institution, the Learning Policy Institute, and the Coalition for Community Schools—conducted an assessment of community school practitioners and experts to gauge emerging needs and best practices in implementing community schools and technical assistance. The findings of our inquiry provide important guidance for the Full-Service Community Schools program and other initiatives focused on expanding and deepening effective community school strategies. In our report, “Community Schools Forward: Technical assistance needs assessment,” we summarize the findings of a national study exploring community school technical assistance needs and assets and recommend that technical assistance providers prioritize:

  • Model clarity for all stakeholders – ensuring all stakeholders have the same conceptual understanding of community schools and their role within the model.
  • Structures and systems for community voices – developing mechanisms that invite democratic processes within a community school.
  • Structures and systems for collaborativeleadership – systems and processes that reinforce distributed leadership and collaborative decisionmaking.
  • Asset-based thinking – cultivating a perspective that focuses on the strengths of the students, families, and community.
  • Sustainability – navigating braided funding and “telling the story” to public and private funders in a way that accurately reflects the work; developing a model or network that is supported by the community and leadership, and not vulnerable to leadership changes.
  • Reimagining systems for equity – reviewing existing school processes and structures to determine if the current approach is meeting all student, family, and community needs. Changing those systems that are not meeting the needs of all stakeholders.
  • Data systems – developing systems for data collection and analysis that capture accurate data that is connected to identified outcomes and is aligned with a logic model.
  • Data culture and continuous improvement – creating a positive and collaborative environment where problems can be identified and solved using data and inquiry.

Additionally in our report, practitioners shared the most impactful strategies that community school decisionmakers and partners can prioritize as part of their developmental process.

Read the full report.

Carol Burris has followed closely the development and passage of regulations written by the U.S. Department of Education for federally-funded charter schools. The regulations, she believes, are reasonable and intended to assure that charters funded by the federal government are held to standards of transparency, honesty, and accountability.

She was taken aback to learn that rightwing groups have filed suit to block the regulations. Apparently, those filing the suit think that charters should get federal money without any oversight.

She writes about it here.

Those who want a wild west of unregulated charter schools never give up. A right-wing legal defense firm called the Pacific Legal Foundation has teamed up with the Michigan charter lobby and The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation to stop the reasonable rules of the U.S. Department of Education, claiming the Department has no right to make rules regarding the program.

Here are other lawsuits in which Pacific Legal is engaging:

· Fighting minimum wages for those who wish to move up the ladder at Texas Wally Burgers and Dairy Queens.

· Fighting opportunities for businesses of color to get some competitive advantage in obtaining government contracts after years of discrimination.

· Fighting attempts by three competitive Boston schools to expand enrollment opportunities for under-represented students of color by allotting spots by zip code.

The two plaintiffs, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, have vested financial interests in charter growth. Fordham is an authorizer of charter schools in Ohio, taking 3% of all the taxpayer dollars that the charters receive for providing “oversight.”

The argument, in its essence, is that the Department does not have the right to set up new conditions beyond what is memorialized in ESSA. If that is so, then when De Vos permitted state entities to distribute money to charter schools from their CSP grants for purposes beyond the opening and expansion of charters during the pandemic, she would have been in violation, too. Here is New York’s redistribution request that was granted. CSP funds were used for a “pandemic response,” as Betsy De Vos approved, without Congress’s permission. If the charter lobby wins this frivolous lawsuit designed to bully the Department into kowtowing to charters, perhaps taxpayers should sue to claw all of the money De Vos distributed back from charter schools.

Finally, I wonder why organizations that claim they fight for charter schools to help low-income kids succeed would run to a law firm that fights minimum wages, reduces disadvantaged kids’ chances of getting into a competitive high school, and roll back opportunities for minority-owned businesses. Perhaps their agenda has nothing to do with children at all.

Carol Burris knows every detail of the U.S. Department of Education’s new regulations for charter schools. She has studied them closely and written about what they mean. They are a reasonable effort to create accountability for the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars a year on charter schools. The federal Charter Schools Program began in 1994 as a $4 million annual fund to start new charter schools. In the nearly three decades since then, the program has grown (in response to the powerful charter lobby) to $440 million a year. The program, until now, has been unregulated. It has been riddled with waste, fraud, and abuse. As two well-documented reports (see here and here) by the Network for Public Education demonstrated, a large number of charters received federal funding but never opened or closed soon after opening. While the original intent of the program was to jumpstart small, teacher-led or mom-and-pop charters, the program grew into a slush fund for big charter chains, grifters, and slick, for-profit entrepreneurs.

The U.S. Department of Education wisely decided it was time to set some rules. Federal funding comes with rules.

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg knows none of this context. He recently wrote (or one of his aides wrote) an uninformed article in the Washington Post about the Department’s new regulations for the Federal Charter School Program. He falsely claimed that the regulations were a “victory” for the charter industry, even though the charter industry fought the regulations vigorously. Bloomberg’s article was a lame attempt to put a happy face on a major defeat for the charter lobbyists.

Carol Burris responded:

Michael Bloomberg embarrassed himself with his recent op-ed published in the Washington Post entitled “Charter School Change is a Victory for Children.” It would appear that given the efforts and funding that his organization put into blocking Charter School Program reforms, he now feels the need to take an unearned victory lap.

Bloomberg begins his op-ed by thanking the Biden Administration for listening to parents and editorialists—like himself. After participating in the month-long hate fest that claimed the President was “at war with charter schools,” he and his allies at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools are likely eager to creep out of the doghouse.

In addition to its heated rhetoric insulting the President and telling Secretary Cardona to back off, the charter lobby deliberately spread misinformation regarding the U.S. Department of Education’s then-proposed Charter School Program reforms. They falsely claimed that over-enrollment in district schools and cooperation with a public school district were prerequisites to obtaining CSP funding. Bloomberg used his influence to write op-eds that parroted the campaign of misinformation.

As I explained here in the Washington Post Answer Sheet, neither claim was valid. Now, Bloomberg once again twists the truth with three additional false narratives in his recent op-ed.

The first is as follows.

“The Department of Education’s original proposal could have prevented public charter schools with long wait lists from expanding or replicating if the district schools were under-enrolled.”

This was inaccurate when he first wrote it and is still untrue. Under-enrollment was an example of one of the ways charter schools could demonstrate need. Waiting lists, special missions, and other ways to show need were always allowed. This was clarified by the Department long before the final regulations were published.

The second false claim in his op-ed is:

“It [proposed regulations] would have prioritized funding for public charter schools that enter into formal contracts with district schools, making charters dependent on the good will and good faith of schools that may see them as competitors.”

Mr. Bloomberg better check again.

Priority 2 (charter/district cooperation) is still in the regulations as an invitational priority this year. Invitational is one of three levels of priority. The proposed regulations never stated which level priority 2 would have. The priority, by being retained, also opens the door for priority 2 to become a higher priority in the coming years.

And finally:

“And it would have restricted public charters from receiving early implementation funding that can be crucial to the process of opening a school. The proposal was amended to prevent those outcomes.”

The amendment he refers to (see below) was a change without distinction. Those implementation funds cannot be used; therefore, the original restriction, for all intents and purposes, is still intact.

This is the minor change between the proposed and final regulations, as explained by the Department here.

“We amended Assurance (f) to remove the requirement that applicants provide an assurance that they will not “use or provide” implementation funds for a charter school until after the eligible applicant has received an approved charter and secured a facility so that applicants are required only to provide an assurance that they will not “use” implementation funds prior to receiving an approved charter and securing a facility.”

If the schools cannot use the funds, whether or not they are “provided” is irrelevant.

I do not know who penned this op-ed for Mr. Bloomberg. But I do know this. His buddies at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, likely with his financial support, spent a king’s ransom trying to get the U.S. Department of Education to scrap or delay the regulations. In the process, they alienated members of Congress, especially powerful House Appropriations Chair Rosa De Lauro, as well as members of the Department. Their campaign was relentless, nasty, and very expensive.

But in the world of Michael Bloomberg, the truth is flexible, and he can use the influence derived from his fortune to put in print whatever “truth” suits his purpose.

However, those of us who have followed this carefully know the deal. As charter devotee, Jeanne Allen tweeted to the National Alliance’s Nina Rees, who was also trying to claim victory, “You should probably read thoroughly the final CSP #charterschool rules. All 135 pages. Not only did nothing really change, but the explanations make it worse than it was to start.”