Education Fraud at the Margins: Using the Federal False Claims Act to Curb Enrollment Abuses in Online, For-Profit K–12 Schools

Erin R. Chapman*

America’s online schools have some things to account for. In recent years, an
increase in the number of for-profit K–12 schools has coincided with the rise
of online education. Meanwhile, funding models that award money for each
additional student incentivize for-profit schools to overenroll students in online
programs that were once reserved for specialized subsets of students. Although,
to date, reported incidents of enrollment fraud have been rare, there
are many reasons to think that the problem has gone largely undetected. As
education reformers on both sides of the political spectrum continue to push
privatization and charter schools, figuring out how to avoid waste and minimize
fraud will only become more important. This Note argues that the federal
False Claims Act (FCA) is the best short-term option for curbing this kind
of enrollment-reporting abuse. By drawing an analogy to health-care fraud,
this Note makes the case that prosecutors and individuals can and should use
expanded theories of false claiming to hold accountable online charter schools
that exaggerate their enrollment.

*J.D., May 2017, University of Michigan Law School. Thanks to my parents, my
brother, and my family full of educators. I’m grateful to Chris Whitman, Sam Jaffe, Evan Lum, Kate Canny, John He, Emma Shoucair, Maria Ricuarte, and my colleagues at the Michigan Law Review for their thoughtful edits. I would also like to thank my coworkers, families, and students at Atlas Preparatory School who taught me everything I know about teaching, and the public school teachers and mentors who helped me imagine possibilities for myself that I could never have dreamed up on my own—especially Barbara Buchholz, Allison Heisel, and Charlene Brown.

Download as PDF