Peters blames DeVos’ lack of oversight for charter school program waste

    U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos | Education Department via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

    U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is under fire again this week after the Network for Public Education (NPE) released a study that found more than $500 million of federal grants were given to fund charter schools that were either closed or never opened. 

    Sen. Gary Peters
    U.S. Sen. Gary Peters at Mott Community College | Derek Robertson

    U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.), ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, addressed DeVos in a letter Tuesday, saying her “lack of oversight … left students and their families worse off.”

    The report showed that since 2006 the Charter Schools Program has funded about 1,800 nonexistent charters across the country. In Michigan, about $21 million in grants went to 112 defunct schools ー 72 of which never opened at all. Michigan had the highest number of never-opened charter schools that received grants from the CSP.

    Casandra Ulbrich, president of the Michigan State Board of Education, said she found the study’s findings “extremely troubling” and would continue to investigate the misused funding.

    “Rather than giving students choices, each charter school that closed or failed to open meant that communities missed out on more than half a billion dollars in resources that could have benefitted neighborhood schools,” Peters said in his letter to DeVos.

    The feds granted millions for Michigan charter schools that never opened. Where did the money go?

    In 2018, the Department of Education’s inspector general found that grants to charter schools were at serious risk of fraud or waste, and that DeVos exercised little oversight of these programs as she championed opening more charter schools. 

    “This lack of oversight opens the door for bad actors to defraud taxpayers, including for-profit companies that manage charter schools,” Allison Green, a spokesperson for Peters, said in a press release Tuesday. 

    Almost 80% of Michigan charter schools are operated by for-profit companies.

    “It is not difficult to imagine that bad actors would see the Department’s willingness to turn a blind eye to anything resembling regulation of charter schools, while also handing out millions of no-strings-attached grants, as an opportunity,” Peters wrote.

    Allison Donahue
    Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.