Report: millions wasted on Wisconsin charter schools that closed or never opened

    children at school looking at a computer
    Children at school (photo by Lucélia Ribeiro, Creative Commons sharealike 2.0)

    A new report by the Network for Public Education, a group founded by public-education advocate and former U.S. Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, provides extensive, state-by-state data on waste in the federal charter schools program. 

    In Wisconsin, 46% of charter schools that received federal start-up grants between 2006 and 2014 shut down or never opened at all, the report found, at a total cost to taxpayers of $48.6 million.

    The report, entitled Still Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Results in a Pileup of Fraud and Waste, updates an investigation of the U.S. Department of Education’s charter schools program released in March 2019 that has been cited by Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in their campaigns. 

    In an opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News, Sanders targeted “billionaires like Eli Broad, the DeVos family, and the Walton family [who] are able to bankroll destructive charter school experiments to enrich investors and real-estate developers with taxpayer resources.”

    Warren has called for shutting down the federal charter schools program.  

    Overall, of the nearly 5000 charter schools that received funds from the federal government, 37% never opened or opened and then shut down, the report states. 

    According to state case study, there were 289 grants given to open or expand charter schools in Wisconsin from the federal charter schools program between 2006 and 2014, of which 132 (46%) are now closed or never opened at all. 

    The report includes a chart of all the Wisconsin charter schools that opened with federal grant money and are now closed.

    Among the schools that closed after recieving federal grants, the report lists the Milwaukee Learning Laboratory and Institute ($725,000), the Jacob Shapiro Brain Based Instruction Laboratory School ($697,000), the Kenosha eSchool ($600,000), and the Inland Seas School of Expeditionary Learning ($595,000).

    Ruth Conniff
    Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.