Today, the Center for Media and Democracy is releasing a complete state-by-state list of the failed charter schools since 2000. Among other things, this data reveals that millions and millions of federal tax dollars went to “ghost” schools that never even opened to students. The exact amount is unknown because the U.S. Department of Education is not required to report its failures, where money went to groups to help them start new charters that never even opened.
This data set also provides reporters and citizens of each state an opportunity to take a closer look at how much taxpayer money has been squandered on the failed charter school experiment in their states. The data set and the interactive map below are based on more than a decade’s worth of official but raw data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).
This release comes as the U.S. Department of Education and industry insiders currently deciding which states to award half a billion dollar in grants designed to bolster the school privatization industry under the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP).
As CMD has calculated, nearly 2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools, and the failure rate for charter schools is much higher than for traditional public schools.
For example, in the 2011-2012 school year, charter school students ran two and half times the risk of having their education disrupted by a school closing and suffering academic setbacks as a result of closure. Dislocated students are less likely to graduate. In 2014 study, Matthew F. Larsen with the Department of Economics at Tulane University looked at high school closures in Milwaukee, almost all of which were charter schools, and he concluded that closures decreased “high school graduation rates by nearly 10%." He found that the effects persist "even if the students attends a better quality school after closure.”
Hidden behind the statistics are the social consequences. According to 2013 paper by Robert Scott and Miguel Saucedo at the University of Illinois, school closures “have exacerbated inter-neighborhood tensions among Chicago youth in recent years” and have been a contributing factor to the high rate of youth incarceration.
Then there are the charter schools that never opened despite tax money from a federal program to help more entities apply to create even more charters. Drilling down into the data of just one state in just one school year, 25 charter schools (or, really, prospective charter schools) awarded grants in 2011-'12 never opened in Michigan. The non-profit groups behind these were granted a total of $3.7 million in federal tax money in implementation and planning grants, and they also received at least $1.7 million in state tax dollars. These charter schools exist only on paper, in this case on grant notification forms and in databases of state expenditures.
As CMD has calculated, the federal government has spent more than $3.3 billion in the past two-plus decades fueling the charter school industry that has taken money away from traditional public schools. And, as the Center for Popular Democracy has demonstrated, more than $200 million of that money resulted in fraud and waste over the past decade.
Click here for the full state-by-state list of charter schools that have closed between 2000 and 2013.
A Map of Failure
Source: NCES Common Core of Data Public Elementary/Secondary School Universe Survey for school years 2000 to 2013. Data are available at https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/pubschuniv.asp. For purposes of this analysis, schools coded in the survey as “closed since last report,” and “inactive-temporarily closed” were deemed closed. Schools that changed status from “charter” and “open” to “not applicable” and “closed” in subsequent year were also deemed to be closed charter schools. Additionally, schools coded as open charters in one year that then are missing from the survey for at least the next two subsequent years are also deemed to be closed.