How a soccer club won a $1.2 million grant from DeVos’s Education Department to open a charter school

Here’s a new, rather remarkable story about charter school grants recently awarded by the Education Department — including one for more than $1 million that went to a soccer club in Pennsylvania that had no experience running a school.



Betsy DeVos wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks Thursday at the Phoenix International Academy in Phoenix. (Matt York/AP)


© Matt York/AP
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks Thursday at the Phoenix International Academy in Phoenix. (Matt York/AP)

This is one of a number of pieces I have run in recent years about the Federal Charter School Program, which has invested close to $4 billion in these schools since it began giving grants in 1995.

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Charter schools, a key feature of the “school choice” movement, are financed by the public but privately operated. About 6 percent of U.S. schoolchildren attend charter schools, with California having the most charter schools and the most charter students.

Charters had bipartisan support for years, but a growing number of Democrats have pulled back from the movement, citing the fiscal impact on school districts and repeated scandals in the sector.

Charter supporters say the 30-year-old movement offers important alternatives to traditional public schools, which educate the vast majority of U.S. students, and that the movement is still learning. Opponents say there is little public accountability over many charters and that they drain resources from traditional districts.

Research shows student outcomes are, overall, largely the same in charter and traditional public schools, although there are failures and exemplars in both.

This piece, like a number of earlier ones on charters, was written by Carol Burris, a former New York high school principal who serves as executive director of the Network for Public Education, a nonprofit group that advocates for public education.

Burris, who opposes charter schools, was named the 2010 Educator of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York State, and in 2013, the National Association of Secondary School Principals named her the New York State High School Principal of the Year.

I asked the Education Department to comment on the grant to the soccer club, about which Burris writes, but did not get an immediate response. I will add it if I do.

By Carol Burris

In late September 2020, amid the covid-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education awarded nearly $6 million to five organizations to open new charter schools. One of the five awardees was “The All Football Club, Lancaster Lions Corporation,” located in Lancaster, Pa. The club had no experience running either a private school or a charter school, yet nevertheless pitched the AFCLL Academy Charter School for a grant from the federal Charter School Program (CSP).

The CSP awarded the football club $1,260,750 to be spent within its first five years, even though their submitted application only received 70 of 115 possible points by reviewers — a failing grade of 61 percent. And the club did not have permission from the local school board to actually open the school.

That award of tax dollars to an unauthorized charter school shines a light on how the

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