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Campaign Updates

04/27/2015 | Holding Charter Schools Accountable, Promoting Strong Public Schools

The Tip of the Iceberg: Charter School Vulnerabilities To Waste, Fraud, And Abuse

The Tip of the Iceberg: Charter School Vulnerabilities To Waste, Fraud, And Abuse
Escalating Fraud Warrants Immediate Federal and State Action to Protect Public Dollars and Prevent Financial Mismanagement

Download the report here

April 2015

Executive Summary

A year ago, the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) issued a report demonstrating that charter schools in 15 states—about one-third of the states with charter schools—had experienced over $100 million in reported fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. This report offers further evidence that the money we know has been misused is just the tip of the iceberg. Over the past 12 months, millions of dollars of new alleged and confirmed financial fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement in charter schools have come to light, bringing the new total to over $200 million.

Despite the tremendous ongoing investment of public dollars to charter schools, government at all levels has failed to implement systems that proactively monitor charter schools for fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement. While charter schools are subject to significant reporting requirements by various public offices (including federal monitors, chartering entities, county superintendents, and state controllers and auditors), very few public offices regularly monitor for fraud.

The number of instances of serious fraud uncovered by whistleblowers, reporters, and investigations suggests that the fraud problem extends well beyond the cases we know about. According to standard forensic auditing methodologies, the deficiencies in charter oversight throughout the country suggest that federal, state, and local governments stand to lose more than $1.4 billion in 2015.b 1 The vast majority of the fraud perpetrated by charter officials will go undetected because the federal government, the states, and local charter authorizers lack the oversight necessary to detect the fraud.

Setting up systems that detect and deter charter school fraud is critical. Investments in strong oversight systems will almost certainly offset the necessary costs. We recommend the following reforms:

  • Mandate audits that are specifically designed to detect and prevent fraud, and increase the transparency and accountability of charter school operators and managers.
  • Clear planning-based public investments to ensure that any expansions of charter school investments ensure equity, transparency, and accountability.
  • Increased transparency and accountability to ensure that charter schools provide the information necessary for state agencies to detect and prevent fraud.

State and federal lawmakers should act now to put systems in place to prevent fraud, waste, abuse and mismanagement. While the majority of state legislative sessions are coming to an end, there is an opportunity to address the charter school fraud problem on a federal level by including strong oversight requirements in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is currently being debated in Congress. Unfortunately, some ESEA proposals do very little reduce the vulnerabilities that exist in the current law. If the Act is passed without the inclusion of the reforms outlined in this report, taxpayers stand to lose millions more dollars to charter school fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement.

Download the report here