Archives for category: U.S. Department of Education

A few days ago, the House Subcommittee that controls federal education appropriations invited Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to testify about her budget proposals, which seek to eliminate 29 federal programs and turn their funding over to the state as a block grant. At the same time, she wants to slash the Department’s funding. And…of course, she wants $5 billion for vouchers for private and religious schools, which are both demonstrably unpopular and ineffective.

This video clip shows Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) questioning DeVos about the federal Charter Schools Program. Rep. Pocan relied on a report from the Network for Public Education to the nearly $1 billion in federal funds wasted on charter schools that either never opened or closed not long after opening.

He asked DeVos direct questions, questions that required a yes or no.

She evaded, she ducked, she weaved, she obfuscated. She refused to answer yes or no.

She dismissed the NPE report, Asleep at the Wheel, as “propaganda” that had been “debunked.” This was a lie. The data in the report came from the U.S. Department of Education and from DeVos’s own reports to Congress.

Pocan exposes two facts about DeVos. One, she plays fast and loose with facts. Two, she refuses to answer questions that are uncomfortable for her. We already know that she, unlike previous secretaries of education, actively dislikes public education. I humbly suggest that her contempt for public schools makes her unfit to be Secretary of Education.

Asleep at the Wheel:

Rep. Mark Pocan Questions Betsy DeVos on the Charter Schools Program

The House Subcommittee on Appropriations for Labor, Health, Human Services and Education opened hearings this morning, with Secretary DeVos as witness to testify about the Trump administration’s budget proposal. She. Wants to combine the funding for 29 programs and send the money to states as a block grant, to be used as they wish, she wants deep cuts in overall spending but a new $5 billion federal voucher program, which she calls “education freedom scholarships.” Charter school advocates were stunned to learn that the federal Charter Schools Program was one of the 29 that would disappear into a block grant.

Rep. Rosa DeLauro opened the hearing with this statement.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 27, 2020

CONTACT:

Will Serio: 202-225-3661

Chairwoman DeLauro Opening Remarks for House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Hearing with Secretary DeVos on the President’s Fiscal Year 2021 Budget Request

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning, Secretary Devos. Welcome to the Subcommittee. It is our second budget hearing of the year. It is your fourth budget hearing with us. Today, we are examining the President’s Department of Education budget request for fiscal year 2021.

As I was reviewing the budget materials, Madame Secretary, this much was clear to me. You are seeking to privatize public education. But, I believe that is the wrong direction for our students and our country. Instead, we need to be moving towards expanding public policies like early childhood education that we know help students to succeed. We see this in other countries around the globe. They are not shrinking public support; they are expanding it.

I will get more into the consequences of the cuts that you are proposing. But, I want to start by examining your privatization philosophy, the false premise on which it is built, and the research it ignores.

Contrary to your claims, the nation’s public education system, which 90 percent of our children attend, has witnessed significant progress for all groups of students over the last 30 years. Average mathematics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have improved for 4th graders (by 13 percent) and 8th graders (by 7 percent). While overall reading improvements have been more modest, Black 4th graders’ scores improved by 6 percent and 8th graders’ by 3 percent. Hispanic 4th graders’ scores improved by 6 percent and 8th graders’ by 5 percent.

There is more to do to address the disparities in achievement. We know we face significant challenges in assisting the kids that come into our system in education districts where they experience poverty and exposure to violence, often resulting in trauma. But, the solution is not less resources, nor is it more privatization.

In fact, the administration’s own data has shown how privatization has let down students. The Trump administration evaluated the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program and found that vouchers had a statistically significant negative impact on the mathematics achievement of impacted students. In other words, more vouchers, lower math achievement. That is not a lone data point, either. Previous multi-sector studies using NAEP data have found that no student achievement scores for children in private schools were higher than those of children in public schools by any statistically significant degree.

So, your push to privatize public education is based on false premise that is not supported by data.

Its consequences would be to undermine the education of students in nearly every state, particularly for vulnerable students in high-need regions, including rural parts of our country.

• You would end career and college readiness for 560,000 low-income, middle school students across 45 states by eliminating the highly competitive grant program known as GEAR UP (-$365 million).

• You would endanger academic tutoring, personal counseling, and other programs for 800,000 students in sixth grade by slashing TRIO programs by $140 million. TRIO serves low-income, first-generation students and students with disabilities, helping them graduate from college.

• You would endanger education access for children experiencing homelessness by eliminating the Education for Homeless Children and Youth program (-$102 million). This funding is desperately needed. In the 2016-2017 school year, more than 1.3 million enrolled children had experienced homelessness at some point in the past 3 years, an increase of 7 percent from 2014-2015.

• You would endanger youth literacy as well as potentially increase class size and undermine efforts to support diverse teachers by eliminating the main program — Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants which we increased for the first time in many years (-$2.1 billion).

• You would potentially put higher education out of the financial grasp of students by flat funding the Pell Grant ($6,345). 40 percent of undergraduate students or 7 million students rely on Pell Grants to afford higher education. But while Pell covered 79 percent of the average costs of tuition, fees, room, and board at a four-year public institution in 1975, it covers only 29 percent today. Our students cannot afford for us to stand pat like this.

• And, finally, your budget would risk exacerbating the financial challenges of under-resourced rural districts by converting rural formula grants into the block grant. These districts already struggle with lower student populations and higher transportation costs and your move to undermine their funding in this way is unacceptable.

With all of this, let me say, it is not going to happen.

I am supportive of the recognition of I-D-E-A State grants ($100 million proposed increase) and career and technical education, ($680 million proposed increase) for CTE State grants. Although I am disappointed that Adult Education State Grants are left with level funding. I plan to ask you that about later.

You have also once again requested an increase for student loan servicing. We included new reforms in the fiscal year 2020 bill to help us conduct more oversight and ensure borrowers are getting the help they need. Many of these ideas stemmed from an oversight hearing that this Subcommittee held last year. To be direct, I will need to see how the Department implements the new requirements as I review your request for next year.

And, with regard to Charter Schools, there is a place for them. They have a role in the education system. However, we have moved in the direction of creating a parallel education system. Concerns remain around issues of accountability and transparency, which to this point they have not been forthcoming. As I have said again and again, I believe Charter Schools ought to be held to the same rigor. And, where they fail, we need to know about it.

To close, Madame Secretary, you are clearly seeking to privatize public education. I hope that I have been clear that we are not going to do that. Because doing so ignores the research indicating the gains we have made, ignores the many areas private education shortchanges students, ignores the very reason the federal government has needed to be involved in education as so powerfully indicated with Brown vs. Board of Education, and ignores the spirit and values of this country. No, instead, we need to be expanding public policies that boost education attainment, not restricting or reducing them.

So, I look forward to our discussion today. Now, let me turn to my colleague, the Ranking Member from Oklahoma Tom Cole. Mr. Cole?

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delauro.house.gov

The Network for Public Education has issued two reports documenting waste, fraud, and lack of oversight in the federal Charter Schools Program. The CSP was created by the Clinton administration in 1994 at a time when there were few charters; it was intended to give aid to start-ups. Over the years it has evolved into a slush fund for rapacious corporate charter chains and for the advocacy groups that lobby for more charter funding.

In response to the NPE reports, the charter industry attacked them as cherry-picking, inaccurate, and union-funded, none of which is true.

Recently Betsy DeVos attacked NPE and its critique of the $440 million CSP program that is in her sole control.

NPE executive director Carol Burris responded to the critics by using the data offered by DeVos herself. DeVos’s numbers demonstrate that the NPE reports underestimated the number of charter schools that never opened (“ghost schools”) or that closed not long after opening.

She further showed that the charter lobby (which has received millions from the CSP program) has an obvious self-interest in keeping their federal money flowing and that their critiques of the NPE reports are inaccurate and riddled with error.

The worst thing that the industry and DeVos can say about NPE is that we support American public education and oppose privatization. This is true. We do. That doesn’t make NPE “biased.” It makes us good citizens.

Burris’s response is brilliant and well worth your time to read as an example of clear thinking and clear writing, supported by the evidence provided by DeVos herself.

Peter Greene writes here about the budget approved by Congress for the Department of Education.

There is good news and bad news. Peter Greene thinks it’s mostly good news. I’d say there is both.

Congress did not appropriate a penny for Betsy DeVos’s top priority, her $5 billion request for vouchers (aka “education freedom scholarships”). Sorry, Betsy, nada. Even Republican Congressmen and Senators represent public school parents.

But Congress appropriated $440 million for Betsy’s charter school slush fund, otherwise known as the federal Charter Schools Program. The CSP is a swamp of fraud, waste, and abuse, as the Network for Public Education demonstrated in its “Asleep at the Wheel” and “Still Asleep at the Wheel” reports, which showed that more than $1 billion in federal funds were wasted on charters that either never opened or closed not long after opening. The House (controlled by Democrats) wanted to cut CSP to $400 million (which is $400 million too much), but the Senate (controlled by Republicans) negotiated it back to level funding. The CSP was created by the Clinton administration in 1994 to help start-ups, mom-and-pop or teacher-led charters that needed some extra funding. Betsy has turned it into a big fat plum for corporate charter chains like KIPP and IDEA, which are not start-ups and which are already richly endowed with funding from billionaires, most of them right-wingers. At present, the federal government is the single biggest funded of charter schools in the nation, even in states that don’t want them or need them, like New Hampshire, where Betsy gave the state $46 million to double the number of charters, but the state legislative fiscal commission rejected the money. Congress showed its lack of concern for accountability; that’s for the little people.

Peter Greene writes:

Trump asked for a 10% cut to the department and the elimination of twenty-nine programs. That didn’t happen (though it’s worth noting that many Trump appointees like DeVos have figured out that you can cut spending in your department by simply letting positions stand empty).

There is more money for Title I. It’s about a 3% increase, while Democratic candidates are calling for increases of 200% to 300%.

The Charter Schools Program– the fund that has wasted a billion dollars on charter school waste and fraud– will stay art current levels, with neither the boost the GOP wanted nor the cut that Democrats called for.

And special ed funding will once again not be increased to its full, required level. This makes forever years for Congress to stiff the states on the granddaddy of all unfunded mandates. Thanks a lot, Congress.

 

 

Valerie Strauss reviews “Still Asleep at the Wheel” here.

She begins:

“More than 35 percent of charter schools funded by the federal Charter School Program (CSP) between 2006 and 2014 either never opened or were shut down, costing taxpayers more than half a billion dollars, according to a new report from an advocacy group that reviewed records of nearly 5,000 schools.

“The state with the most charter schools that never opened was Michigan, home to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

“The report, titled “Still Asleep at the Wheel,” said that 537 “ghost schools” never opened but received a total of more than $45.5 million in federal start-up funding. That was more than 11 percent of all the schools that received funding from CSP, which began giving grants in 1995.

”In Michigan, where the billionaire DeVos has been instrumental over several decades in creating a charter school sector, 72 charters that received CSP money never opened, at a total cost of some $7.7 million from 2006 to 2014. California was second, with 61 schools that failed to open but collectively received $8.36 million.
The Education Department did not respond to a query about the findings. DeVos has made expanding alternatives to school districts — including charters and programs that use public money for private and religious schools — her top priority as education secretary, and has said her metric for a state’s education success is how much they expand school “choice.”

”Casandra Ulbrich, president of the Michigan State Board of Education, said in an interview that she found the new report “extremely troubling.”


“It raises some very legitimate questions about a federal grant program that seems to have been operating for years and years with little oversight and very little accountability,” she said.”

 

Last spring, the Network for Public Education published a report on waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal Charter Schools Program. The report, called Asleep At the Wheel, documented the Department of Education’s failure to monitor the veracity or feasibility of applications for the program or to follow up on what happened to the money spent to launch new charter schools. It found that nearly $1 billion of federal dollars had been wasted on charters that either never opened or closed soon after opening.

Today, NPE released a new report that delves into what happened with federal money from the Charter Schools Program in the states. The findings were even more concerning than last spring’s report.
The new report is called Still Asleep At the Wheel.

An excerpt:

This report, Still Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Results in a Pileup of Fraud and Waste, takes up where our first report left off. In it, we provide detailed information, state by state, on how federal dollars were doled out to schools that no longer exist or never existed at all.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education (the Department) published a list of charter schools that received grants between the years of 2006 and 2014. Using that database of 4,829 schools, we meticulously determined which charters that received grants were still open, which had closed and which had never opened, resulting in state by state records of enormous waste. We examine the detailed spending records of some of Michigan’s ghost charter schools that received grants exceeding $100,000. We explain how money moves into the hands of for-profit management organizations and tell the stories of subgrantees that engaged in fraud—sometimes amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars—all beginning with funding from the federal Charter Schools Program.

Major findings of our research include the following:

Documented charter school closures and the waste of federal funds exceeds our first report’s estimations.
We believed that about 1,000 recipient charters were defunct. However, using the 2015 database (active grantees from 2006-2014), we identified 1,779 grantee schools that either never opened or had shut down. The number of non-operational recipients, across 25 years of the program is inevitably in the thousands.
In the first report, we estimated the fail- ure rate for recipient schools to be 30 percent. For schools listed in the database, however, our latest review found a failure rate of 37 percent.

It is impossible to document total waste for the entire 25 year program because the Department never required the states to report the names of funded schools until 2006. However, we have now documented $504,517,391 (28 percent of the total database amount) that was awarded to schools between 2006-2014 that never opened or that have closed. Applying that percentage to the total expenditures ($4.1 billion) of the CSP programs designed to create new schools, approximately $1.17 billion in federal funding has likely been spent on charters that either never opened, or that opened and have since shut down.

The disbursement of over one billion dollars during the program’s first decade was never monitored for its impact or results. There is no record of which schools received the funds.

From 1995 to 2005, enormous funds were pushed out to the states to distribute to schools via subgrants. Yet the Department has no complete record of which schools re- ceived funding during the program’s early years, because it never required the states to report the names of subgrantee schools or their status. The Department’s over- sight ended when the funds left Washington.

During the first decade of the program when states did not have to report where the money went, Florida, a state where nearly half of all charter schools are run by for-profit organizations, received four grants totaling $158,353,525. Michigan, where about 80 percent of all charters are run by for-profit management companies, received four grants totaling $64,608,912. California also received four grants, totaling $190,857,243.
Although the overall rate of failed charter projects was 37 percent, in some states the rate of failure was much higher.

Iowa and Kansas have the largest propor- tions of failed subgrantee charter schools. Eleven charter schools in Iowa received grants. Ten failed, wasting over $3.66 million. As of 2014, the database indicates that Kansas doled out $8.51 million to 29 schools. Twenty-two (76 percent) of those schools either never opened or are closed today–$6,389,964 of the $8.9 million was wasted.

States with a subgrantee failure rate exceeding 50 percent include: Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Mississippi, Virginia and Washington (state). Mississippi had only one grantee and that school failed. Georgia had 75 failures, resulting in over 23 million federal dollars wasted.

The percentage of defunct charter school grantees in Florida was 37 percent ($34.2 million); the Michigan failure rate was over 44 percent ($21 million) and Lou- Asian’s failure rate was 46 percent ($25.5 million).
The most astounding loss, however, was California’s: nearly $103 million was awarded to charters that never opened or have shut down—37% failed.

Five hundred thirty-seven (537) schools list- ed in the database never opened at all. Many received over $100,000 in federal funds.

Since 2001, charter school entrepreneurs have been eligible to receive CSP grants before they have even identified an authorizer or submitted a detailed application to open a school. In total, we identified 28 states that had at least one charter school (537 schools in total) that never enrolled even one student for one day and yet had received federal funds. According to the CSP database, those schools received, or were due to receive when the database collection ended, a total of $45,546,552 million.

Topping the list was the state of Michigan where 72 never-opened schools received grants, most exceeding $100,000. Over $7.7 million was wasted. In California, we identified 61—with waste of $8.36 million.
Other states with large numbers of never- opened schools receiving CSP funds in- clude Arkansas (18), Florida (46) Illinois (20), Maryland (38), Massachusetts (17), New Jersey (23), Ohio (20), Oregon (40), Pennsylvania (41), South Carolina (34), Tennessee (43) and Wisconsin (15).

This report provides details on how several of these never-opened charters in Mi- chigan spent those federal funds.

Although Congress forbids for-profit opera- tors from directly receiving CSP grants, they still benefit by having their schools apply.

Although we could not identify every charter in the CSP database that was run by a for-profit management company, we were able to identify those run by the large for-profit chains including Academica, K12, National Heritage Academies, White Hat and Charter Schools USA. In total, we found 357 schools in the database run by major for-profit chains. These schools had received a total of $124,929,017 in federal CSP start-up funds. Unsurprisingly, most of this money flowed to for-profit run schools in Florida ($46,936,979) and Michigan ($26,452,927). Eighty-three (83) schools run by the Flor- ida-based, for-profit chain Academica received CSP grants, totaling $23,426,383.


Still Asleep at the Wheel also describes why so many charter schools fail, along with the stories of grantee schools that abruptly closed, sometimes with little or no notice to their students and families. Far too often those schools shut down due to corruption and fraud. Our report provides disturbing accounts of grifters and profiteers who took CSP and other taxpayer funds only to enrich themselves at the expense of the students they had promised to serve.

The staggering amount spent on schools that have closed or never opened, as well as those that have engaged in fraud, is nothing short of a national scandal. As public dollars are diverted from public schools, the students who attend their neighborhood schools have fewer resources. It is time to put on the brakes and chart a new course.

We were heartened that after the publication of our first report in March of 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives reduced funding for the CSP program for 2020. However, a small reduction is not sufficient to address the program’s structural flaws.

We therefore strongly recommend that Congress end appropriations for new charter school grants in the upcoming budget and continue funding only for obligated amounts to legitimate projects. Once those grants have been closed, we recommend that the CSP be ended and that charter schools continue to receive federal support only through other federal funding streams such as Title I and IDEA. Students, not charter school en- trepreneurs, should benefit from federal funds.

We also recommend thorough audits by Congress of previous grant awards, the establishment of regulations to ensure grant awards still under term are being responsibly carried out and that misspent money is returned to the federal coffers.

 

 

Politico Morning Education reports that the U.S. Department of Education mistakenly collected debt from many thousands of students who had been defrauded by a failed online for-profit college and were previously unreported. The last time the Department acknowledged having hounded students in error, it was fined $100,000. Why not fine the Secretary and the officials in charge personally so that they get the message that it is wrong to pursue collections from students whose debt should have been forgiven? (Today’s Politico was underwritten by the Waltons.)

 

A COURT FILING THIS WEEK REVEALED TENS OF THOUSANDS OF ADDITIONAL CORINTHIAN COLLEGES STUDENT BORROWERS WERE TARGETED FOR COLLECTION BY THE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT. The new disclosures have infuriated plaintiffs of an ongoing lawsuit against the government.

In October, after the Trump administration initially said it erroneously collected on the loans of some 16,000 Corinthian borrowers, a federal judge held DeVos in contempt of court and imposed a $100,000 fine for violating an order to stop collecting on student loans from the defunct for-profit college.

Now, according to the department, that means a total of 45,801 borrowers “were erroneously taken out of forbearance or stopped collections status.” That includes the roughly 29,000 newly identified borrowers, plus the original 16,034 borrowers. “FSA has now placed all 45,801 borrowers in the correct status,” the government’s court filing said.

What’s to blame for the mixup? The department said an “isolated communication” between Federal Student Aid and its contractors, plus “other logistical issues” caused the undercount. The government said FSA “now believes that it has an accurate account of existing borrower defense applicants.”

“Students and taxpayers should be infuriated by the Department of Education’s complete disregard for student borrowers,” said Toby Merrill, director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending. “Secretary DeVos has already been found in contempt of court for her illegal collections on students. Now we find out the impact was far greater than previously reported, and she still hasn’t returned all the money owed to students. It is galling, it’s unlawful, and it can’t be tolerated.”

Evidently every part of the Trump administration believes it is above the law. The Washington Post reported today that the Education Department spent millions for student aid at for-profit colleges that were ineligible to receive federal

funding.

A trove of documents released Tuesday by the House Education and Labor Committee shows the Education Department provided $10.7 million in federal loans and grants to students at the Illinois Institute of Art and the Art Institute of Colorado even though officials knew the for-profit colleges were not accredited and ineligible to receive such aid.

The documents build on prior reports from the committee describing efforts by Education Department officials to shield Dream Center Education Holdings, owner of the Art Institutes and Argosy University, from the consequences of lying to students about the accreditation of its since-closed schools. Now it appears the Education Department tried to shield itself from an ill-fated decision to allow millions of dollars to flow to those schools.

Rep. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education Committee, is threatening to subpoena Education Secretary Betsy DeVos for more documents related to the department’s role in Dream Center’s actions. Scott says the agency has obstructed the committee’s investigation and refused to answer questions, as emails and letters paint a picture of a federal agency complicit in an effort to place profits before students.

 

Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education, reports on a new federal analysis comparing charter schools and public schools.

She writes:

A recent report on school choice commissioned by the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) documented what we already know–the performance of students who attend charter schools is no better than the academic performance of those who attend true public schools.
 
The report based its findings on 4th and 8th grade NAEP scores. No school, public or charter, can test prep students for success on the NAEP, thus it is considered by many to be the most reliable measure of student achievement.
 
In addition to a simple comparison of results, the researchers who prepared the report used regression analysis to control for the influence of parental education level on student achievement on the NAEP. This is important because it contradicts those who claim that charters do a better job at educating disadvantaged students, and that the equal academic performance between the two sectors is because public schools educate a more privileged population.  Parental education level has been shown repeatedly to have a significant effect on student achievement, even when controlling for SES. 
 
The report also told us that the percentage of students in private schools has dropped to 9% and homeschool enrollment has risen to 3%. Of the remaining 88%, 94% of all students are enrolled in true public schools, while 6% are enrolled in charter schools. 
 
The charter school sector can produce as many biased studies not subject to peer review as they like, but studies from objective sources consistently produce the same results–charters, despite their creaming of students and “freedom” do no better than true public schools. Ironically, this one was commissioned by the US Department of Education led by Betsy DeVos. 
 


Carol Burris

Executive Director
Network for Public Education

 

The federal Charter Schools Program handed out $440 Million this year. Betsy DeVos uses this money as her personal slush fund to reward corporate charter chains like KIPP ($89 million), IDEA (over $200 million in two years), and Success Academy ($10 million). Originally, it was meant to launch start-up charters, but DeVos has turned it into a free-flowing spigot for some of the nation’s richest charter chains.

Last March, the Network for Public Education published its study of the ineptness of the Charter Schools Program, revealing that at least one-third of the charters it funded had either never opened or had closed soon after opening. About one billion dollars was wasted by this federal program.

Despite the program’s manifest incompetence and failure, Betsy DeVos asked Congressional appropriators to increase its funding to $500 million a year, so she could more efficiently undermine public schools across the nation.

House Democrats responded by cutting the Charter Schools Program to $400 Million ($400 million too much), but $100 million less than DeVos asked for.

Senate Republicans want to increase the funding for the destructive Charter Schools Program to $460 million, giving DeVos a boost of $20 million. The Senate Republicans added a special appropriation of $7.5 million for charter schools in rural districts. Is there a need for charter schools in rural districts that may have only one elementary school and one high school?

The best remedy for the federal Charter Schools Program would be to eliminate it altogether.

Charter schools are amply funded by the Walton Family Foundation, the Gates Foundation, Reed Hastings, Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, the Koch foundation’s, hedge fund managers, and a bevy of other billionaires on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley.