Groups Call on Education Secretary Duncan to Justify New Funding for Charter Expansion

Photo:pixabay
Photo:pixabay
Photo:pixabay

This week, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS), released a letter  sent to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asking for him to justify additional federal spending to expand charter schooling in the face of an internal audit of the program that found significant failures in monitoring and accounting for the funds at both the federal and state levels.

The Federal Charter Schools Program, part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) being debated now in Congress, has distributed more than $3.3 billion in federal start-up funds for new charter schools over the past two decades.  The Department of Education is calling for a 48% increase in funding in the current reauthorization.

But an internal audit by the Department’s Office of Inspector General in 2012 found significant lapses in monitoring and oversight of the program.  Those findings were confirmed last month in a report released by the Center for Media and Democracy.

“Over the past 20 years, the federal government has spent a staggering $3.3 billion to expand the number of charter schools nationwide,” said Leigh Dingerson, interim coordinator of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools. “But it appears that a significant amount of these funds may have been lost or wasted, or at best are simply unaccounted for. We believe that with so much taxpayer money going toward to Charter Schools Program, the public deserves full access to information about the performance and status of those schools.”

AROS is asking Secretary Duncan to address concerns about the transparency, oversight and accountability  in the Charter Schools Program before any new funds are authorized.  The letter asks the Department of Education to disclose what specific steps are being taken to ensure greater accountability for how funds are disbursed, and whether the Department will maintain publicly accessible records of where  the funding goes, and the ways in which the funding impacts students and educational outcomes.

AROS sent a letter to Congress in April, calling for a moratorium on any new funding for the Charter Schools Program.

The OIG audit found a significant lack of accountability both within the federal Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII), which administers the Charter Schools Program, and within the State Education Agencies (SEA), which disburse the majority of the federal funds. Among the OIG findings:

  • The Office of Innovation and Improvement and the State Education Agencies failed to track what happened to millions of federal dollars spent to open charter schools;
  • The OIG found 26 charter schools in three states alone that closed after being awarded about $7 million in SEA grant funds during the audit period (p 23)…in some cases, these closed schools received SEA grant funds without ever opening to students (p 24);
  • In many of these cases, there is no indication of what happened to assets purchased with the SEA grant funds (p 24);
  • The OII did not maintain records of individual charter schools funded through the SEA grants program (p 14) and lacked internal controls and adequate training in fiscal and program monitoring (p 13);
  • None of the SEAs examined in the audit adequately monitored charter schools receiving the SEA grants (p 1), or monitored the state authorizing agencies charged with licensing the schools funded through the federal program.

What do you think?