Tell Your Senators: Do Not Support More Charter School Program Waste and Fraud

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Eight senators (Cassidy, Coryn, Booker, Scott, Bennet, Braun, Hassan, and Schatz) introduced a bill last week that was clearly written with the help of the charter lobby. The Empower Charter School Educators to Lead Act would allow billionaire-funded nonprofits operating as “state entities” to keep more of a cut when dispersing Charter School Program (CSP) grants. The bill would also allow these “state entities” to award up to $100,000 to would-be charter entrepreneurs, including religious organizations, to pre-plan a charter school before they have even submitted an application to an authorizer. 

Send your letter to your senator to oppose the charter lobby’s bill today. Click HERE.

As we documented in our reports, CSP planning grants have led to enormous waste and fraud. NPE found that millions of CSP dollars have gone to school entrepreneurs who never opened a school—confirmed by the Department of Education and the GAO. That is why the 2022 reform regulations we supported put some modest guardrails on how and when planning grants could be spent.

That did not sit well with the charter lobby, led by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which persuaded these eight Senators to make it even easier to get funding to pre-plan a school. 

But it gets worse.  This bill would also increase the funding state entities can keep for themselves when they disperse grants. That cut is already at 10%. This bill would raise it to a whopping 15%. 

Here is an example that shows the impact. The Opportunity Trust is funded by millionaires and billionaires, including the Walton Family Foundation and The City Fund, which itself was funded by billionaires Reed Hastings and John Arnold. It just received a $35,555,557.00 Charter School Program SE grant to open more charter schools in Missouri, even though the St. Louis School Board and the municipal government have made it clear they do not want more charter schools in the city. Charters are only allowed in St. Louis, one unaccredited district, and Kansas City, which their application failed to mention. 

The democratically elected school board of St. Louis just passed a resolution asking the U.S. Department of Education to rescind the grant, stating, among other objections, that the Opportunity Trust lied in its application regarding its working relationship with the district. The one charter school in the unaccredited district that Opportunity Trust opened has been a financial disaster. 

Yet, The Opportunity Trust can currently keep more than $3.5 million for administering grants and “technically assisting” charter grantees. This new bill would allow Opportunity Trust to increase the amount it can keep to more than $5.3 million. 

In addition, the bill would allow the Opportunity Trust to award nearly $1.8 million to would-be charter entrepreneurs to pre-plan schools in a city where they are not needed or wanted. This June, St. Louis Today exposed how three present and former executives of the controversial Kairos Academy, an Opportunity Trust-sponsored school, double-dipped to receive over a half million dollars to “plan” the charter school even while receiving a full salary from their public schools. Two of the three have already left the charter school. 

Shockingly, the Empower Charter School Educators to Lead Act would not only encourage such double-dipping, it would also increase the funding stream.  

At the beginning of the CSP, only state education departments could receive these large grants. However, the charter lobby worked to change the law so that nonprofits like Opportunity Trust could also control who gets the money and keep a share for themselves. 

Half of the 2023 CSP SE awards went to organizations like Opportunity Trust—nonprofits that advocate and lobby for charter schools and are unaccountable to the public. 

Contact your Senators today.  Stop the charter school lobby’s new attempts to fleece American taxpayers and undermine public schools.