FBI Cracks Down on Fraudulent Charter Schools
An education movement that began as a way to provide parents with more schooling choices for their children has become a lucrative industry noted for exorbitant executives’ salaries and, in many cases, fraudulent business operations that have drawn the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Charter school investigations have been launched by FBI agents in Illinois, Connecticut, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and other states with the purpose of uncovering illegal activities by those running such schools.
Some of the investigations are being jointly operated with the U.S. Department of Education, whose inspector general is also reviewing accusations that local charter schools have been less about educating children than making money.
“Education entrepreneurs and private charter school operators could care less about innovation,” Kristen Buras, associate professor of education policies at Georgia State University, told Ruth Conniff of The Progressive. “Instead, they divert public monies to pay their six-figure salaries; hire uncertified, transient, non-unionized teachers on-the-cheap; and do not admit (or fail to appropriately serve) students who are costly, such as those with disabilities.”
Sometimes even a six-figure salary isn’t enough. Ron Packard, who until early this year was CEO of charter school operator K12, made $4.1 million in 2013, according to Conniff. K12 has been accused by the state of Florida of attempting to falsify records, using unqualified teachers, and booking classes of more than 100 students. The company is also a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and has helped promote legislation that would replace schools with remote learning and virtual teachers.
Other ALEC proposals include exempting charter school teachers from state certification requirements and giving charter school corporations the right of first refusal to purchase unused school buildings below cost and without paying taxes and fees.
Other federal investigations have centered on the secretive nature of charter companies, including the nation’s largest, run by Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. Gulen’s 120 schools in the United States, which are secular, have been accused of bringing teachers in from Turkey, using public funds to pay contractors linked to Gulen despite lower bids from others, and refusing public records requests, according to The Atlantic.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley
To Learn More:
FBI Raids of Charter School Operators Jump (by Ruth Conniff, The Progressive)
Nearly $1 Million from Charters Went to Firms Named in FBI Probe (by Dan Mihalopoulos, Chicago Sun-Times)
120 American Charter Schools and One Secretive Turkish Cleric (by Scott Beauchamp, The Atlantic)
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