Report: Federal grants helped most charter school recipients succeed; 14 percent still failed

WASHINGTON D.C. — A new watchdog report is revealing insights into the effectiveness of federal grant money spent on charter schools.

Charter schools are tuition-free, publicly funded, and independently run.

The report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that overall, charter schools that received Charter Schools Program (CSP) grants to open or to expand from 2006-2020 were more likely to stay open compared to similar charter schools without that funding; but it also found around 14% failed even with the taxpayer money.

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“The bottom line is, overall, there are few charter schools that are closing but there is funding available to those that are opening and that are expanding and those that have received that funding are staying open longer,” said Cindy Brown Barnes, managing director of GAO’s Education, Workforce, and Income Security team.

According to the report, within five years after receiving the CSP grants, charter school recipients were about 1.5 times less likely to close compared to similar charter schools without that funding.

But around 14% of charter schools that received CSP grants, which comes out to 638 charter schools, still either closed or never opened their doors in the first place, according to the report.

The report said the schools that ended up failing received around $152 million in taxpayer funding, which is out of a pot of roughly $2.5 billion in federal CSP funding.

“There are a number of reasons why charter schools don’t stay open,” said Barnes. “That could be for low enrollment. There’s competition from other schools. There’s sometimes difficulty in acquiring facilities.”

This report did not specifically look into the reasons for the charter school failures.


Charter schools have faced criticism from opponents who argue that schools take money away from public school districts.

Charter school advocates argue that the schools aim to expand opportunities for kids in underserved communities and offer alternative choices for parents.

“The bargain that charter schools make is we’re going to try something different and doggonit we’re going to do a good job at that and if we don’t, you have the right to shut us down,” said Debbie Veney, senior vice president of communications and marketing for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “There’s going to be a certain amount of failure that’s inherent in it, but the beautiful thing is that we’re held accountable.”

Veney said the organization has been pushing for Congress to invest more funding in charter schools.

“Every other pot of funding in K-12 education has seen a significant boost over the past few years and the Charter Schools Program is the only one that has remained flat,” said Veney. “It’s time that we increase that funding so we can meet the demands of more families.”

The report comes after the Biden administration recently tightened the rules for charter school federal funding over the summer with the goal of making it harder for for-profit schools to receive taxpayer money.

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