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Ed. Dept. Needs to Do a Better Job of Probing Charter Closures, Report Finds

By Alyson Klein — October 01, 2018 2 min read
The exterior of the Department of Education Building in Washington, DC on Thursday, December 14, 2017.
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The U.S. Department of Education hasn’t done a great job of keeping tabs on states that have closed charter schools, according to a report released Monday by the agency’s Office of the Inspector General.

The OIG—the department’s internal investigator—looked at schools in three states: Arizona (which has highest number of closed charters authorized by the same school authorizer), California (which has the largest charter enrollment and the most charters of any state), and Louisiana (which has the highest ratio of closed charter schools to total charters). The review covered the 2011-12 school year and the 2012-13 school year.

The department did not provide enough guidance to make sure these states understood how to effectively manage charter school closures, the OIG found. And it did not look closely at states’ own systems for closing charters.

What’s more, the states did not always meet federal and state requirements for closing out grants to charters that received federal funding for disadvantaged students and children in special education, disposing of assets a charter bought with federal funds, or protecting student information from the closed charter schools.

This did not affect a trivial number of schools. Here’s a chart explaining where the OIG spotted weaknesses:

The OIG recommends that the department come up with a risk assessment that flags states most at risk of having difficulty with charter closures, look over its guidance to make sure it does a good job of addressing issues related to closing a charter school, and work with states to come up with smart procedures for closing out charters.

The department did not explicitly agree or disagree with the OIG’s conclusions, but noted that in recent years, it has taken steps to improve the process, including putting out a “Dear Colleague” letter on charter closures. And it worried that the OIG’s recommendations for fixing the problem would amount to federal overreach, and might even be a violation of the law that authorized the creation of the department.

So what were the reasons charters in these states closed? The department has a handy chart here:

The OIG also released another report on Monday, showing that the department needs significant improvements in the way that it monitors formula grants for Indian education. The department mostly looks to see how grantees are drawing down and spending funds, ignoring other issues, like student count verification. And the department doesn’t do a great job of figuring out which of its grantees are at the greatest risk for problems, and therefore, may be in need of extra monitoring.

“Without adequate monitoring of grantee progress and use of funds the [Office of Indian Education] has little assurance as to whether Indian Education Formula Grant program grantees are making progress toward program goals and objectives and spending funds appropriately,” the report says.