For years the Koch Brothers and their Republican puppets have been trying to dismantle the American public education system in favor of privatization. They, along with their nefarious advocacy group Americans For Prosperity, have poured millions of dollars into charter schools, school board elections and a number of other programs aimed to privatize education. Now, we are learning that our country has lost billions of dollars in taxpayer money that has been given to charter schools over the last two decades.
The Wisconsin-based Center for Media and Democracy released the findings of a year-long investigation into private schools in the country. The study is the most comprehensive look we have had into how our tax dollars have been “invested” the Kochs’ dreams of privatized public schools. The Center filed more than fifty public information requests and looked at twenty years of federal authorizations of charter school funding; they found that our government has spent $3.7 billion on charters and much of that money has vanished into thin air. According to the report as states continues to waste money on private schools and decrease funding for public schools, it’s becoming more difficult to find out where the money is going:
“Unlike truly public schools that have to account for prospective and past spending in public budgets provided to democratically elected school boards, charter spending of tax monies is too often a black hole.”
The reason for this “black hole” is that charter school supporters believe in “flexibility”:
“That flexibility has allowed an epidemic of fraud, waste, and mismanagement that would not be tolerated in public schools,” CMD states, noting that charters “are often policed—if they are really policed at all—by charter proponents, both within government agencies and within private entities tasked with oversight.”
At public schools, the funding comes from the state to the local school boards and then out to the schools. The funds have to all be accounted for and if they are not, they could face millions in dollars of fines from the federal government. Charter schools are not subjected to such constraints, because the people in charge of them are often those who are in favor of privatizing education anyway. Executive Director of CMD, Lisa Graves, explained:
“Neither the federal government nor the states require charters to publish that information on their websites and neither the federal or state governments we examined publish that information themselves.Even aside from serious questions about academic performance by charters—especially online charters—the lack of real accountability remains a real problem for kids and families, as more and more people and corporations have sought to get a piece of the pie, a revenue stream from taxpayer money, to operate or assist charters.”
This is why they said the money goes into a “black hole.” Many of the schools have been accused of tampering with grades, test scores, embezzling tax dollars and other illegal activities. The report found:
- More than $4.9 million went to California charters that closed within a few years.
- Indiana cannot account for more than $2.2 million in funds and also have “heavily segregated” the charter schools where 27 percent of African-American students attend “severely segregated” schools. And the state’s charter schools often test worse than the traditional public schools.
- In 2011 and 2012, $3.7 million in federal taxpayer money was awarded to 25 Michigan “ghost” schools that never even opened to students. Also “more than 100 charters have closed. Many of them have closed due to lack of ‘academic viability’ (poor results) while other have closed due to lack of ‘financial viability.'”
- $4.6 million went to charter schools in Ohio that either closed or never opened. Ohio, however, was given “the biggest one-year grant “by far” in the 2015 competition for federal funding—$32.6 million—thanks in part to a glowing endorsement from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA), which CMD notes had previously referred to the charter system in Ohio as ‘broken.'”
- Texas has been given $41 million for charter schools even though multiple schools have closed due to fraud, poor results, mismanagement and other reasons.
These are only a few of the states who have given money to these Koch-backed for-profit education organizations and then seen the money disappear. Billions of our tax dollars are being wasted on this Republican crusade to destroy public education and more often than not, it is a complete waste of money. If these funds were directed towards public schools across the country, our students would have smaller classrooms, new books, perhaps arts programs could be reintroduced where they were lost. The benefits would be astronomical, but Republicans would rather send that money to schools for wealthy children and let the rest of our youth go without opportunity or education.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.