School Choice at White House; Report Says Feds Wasting Millions on Charters

Calling it "educational freedom," President Trump held what was called a roundtable discussion at the White House focused on school choice programs and scholarship programs Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have been promoting.

According to Politico, "the administration is pushing a new $5 billion federal tax credit for donations to scholarship-granting organizations to pay for students to attend private schools or expand their public education options, but the bill hasn’t made much legislative progress. It hasn't passed either the House or Senate, and some conservatives don't care for such a tax credit at the federal level."

Last week, speaking at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s States and Nation Policy Summit, DeVos said, “the key element of our Education Freedom Scholarships proposal is, as its name suggests, freedom. Freedom for everyone involved. Students, families, teachers, schools, statesany and all can choose whether they participate in the program.”

At the White House event, Trump said, “People want school choice.”

In response, AFSA President Ernest Logan said, "families want good schools and opportunity for their children and the best way to deliver that is through our public education system. Look at what has happened to communities like New Orleans. Privatization is failing our students. It does not work."

Moreover, a report released after the president's roundtable noted that "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 The  Washington Post.

According to the Network for Public Education, the state with the most charter schools that never opened was DeVos' home state of Michigan.

The report found "a troubling pattern of insufficient applicant review, contradictions between information provided by applicants and available public data, the gifting of funds to schools with inadequate financial and governance plans, a push-out of large grants to the states with little supervision by the department, and the waste of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars."

"By comparing claims made by charter grant applicants to information on state databases and school websites, we found numerous examples of federal tax dollars being misspent due to an inattentive process that routinely accepts applicants’ claims without scrutiny," the report said.

NPE said it is likely that as many as one-third of all charter schools receiving CSP grants never opened, or opened and shut down. In fact, the failure rates for grant-awarded charter schools in California has reached nearly four in 10.

They concluded "American taxpayers have a right to demand that their tax dollars not be wasted. Tax dollars that flow to charter schools that never opened or quickly close should not be considered the cost of doing business. And a program with a stated commitment to spread 'high-quality' schools should not be a major funding source for schools that leave families in the lurch and promote discriminatory enrollment practices that increase segregation and unequal opportunity for students with disabilities, behavioral challenges or English language learner status. We cannot afford to continue to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into a program whose stewards are clearly asleep at the wheel."