Michigan taxpayers spend nearly $1 billion annually to support the state’s 370 charter schools, but there’s little transparency in how that money is spent—and many poor-performing charters aren’t held accountable.
Those are among the findings of a recent Detroit Free Press investigation that has put the spotlight on failures in Michigan’s charter school policy.
For their money, the newspaper makes clear, state taxpayers aren’t finding that charter schools offer any improvement in student academic performance. Although many excellent charters exist, 38 percent fall below the 25th percentile in state rankings, compared to 23 percent of traditional schools.
What’s more, the Free Press uncovered a pattern of wasteful spending, financial conflicts of interest, and interference in the efforts of charter school boards to provide oversight.“Michigan laws regulating charters are among the nation’s weakest,” it reports.
Some of the state’s problems appear to be related to the proliferation of for-profit management companies, which today operate more than 60 percent of the state’s charter schools. “The state’s failure to insist on more financial transparency by for-profits—teacher salaries, executive compensation, vendor payments and more—is particularly troubling to charter critics because the for-profit companies receive the bulk of the money that goes to charter schools.”
Charter school board members who have attempted to demand some accountability for these funds reportedly found themselves threatened or forced out of office by the school’s authorizers.
Failures by the Michigan Department of Education to hold charter school authorizers accountable also came to light. According to the Free Press, a majority of the worst-ranked charter schools in the state have been open for a decade or more.
At the same time, state officials reportedly have never suspended a charter school authorizer for the poor performance of its schools.
In response to the Free Press’ findings, the state’s school superintendent, Mike Flanagan, gave public notice that he was ready to hold charter school authorizers accountable for the poor performance of their schools and was willing to “suspend an authorizer’s ability to open new charter schools.”
Check out how state charter school policies are shaping the charter school and education landscape, read the American School Board Journal article and view the video.