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Michigan has one of the worst charter sectors in the nation, according to the Detroit Free Press, which conducted a year-long investigation of charters in the state. The people of Michigan pay $1 billion a year for a sector in which 80% of the charters operate for profit, in which there is neither accountability nor transparency, in which conflicts of interests don’t matter. Billionaire Betsy DeVos and her husband Dick and other members of the DeVos family control education issues in the Republican-dominated legislature with their generous campaign contributions. Governor Rick Snyder is DeVos’s personal puppet. And the state continues to waste public money on failing schools because they are privately run. No regulation needed!
This is Billionaire Betsy DeVos’s idea of how education should work!
The Detroit Free Press writes:
Michigan taxpayers pour nearly $1 billion a year into charter schools — but state laws regulating charters are among the nation’s weakest, and the state demands little accountability in how taxpayer dollars are spent and how well children are educated.
A yearlong investigation by the Detroit Free Press reveals that Michigan’s lax oversight has enabled a range of abuses in a system now responsible for more than 140,000 Michigan children. That figure is growing as more parents try charter schools as an alternative to traditional districts.
In reviewing two decades of charter school records, the Free Press found:
Wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders. Schools allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records. No state standards for who operates charter schools or how to oversee them.
And a record number of charter schools run by for-profit companies that rake in taxpayer money and refuse to detail how they spend it, saying they’re private and not subject to disclosure laws. Michigan leads the nation in schools run by for-profits.
“People should get a fair return on their investment,” said former state schools Superintendent Tom Watkins, a longtime charter advocate who has argued for higher standards for all schools. “But it has to come after the bottom line of meeting the educational needs of the children. And in a number of cases, people are making a boatload of money, and the kids aren’t getting educated.”
According to the Free Press’ review, 38% of charter schools that received state academic rankings during the 2012-13 school year fell below the 25th percentile, meaning at least 75% of all schools in the state performed better. Only 23% of traditional public schools fell below the 25th percentile.
Advocates argue that charter schools have a much higher percentage of children in poverty compared with traditional schools. But traditional schools, on average, perform slightly better on standardized tests even when poverty levels are taken into account.
In late 2011, Michigan lawmakers removed limits on how many charters can operate here —opening the door to a slew of new management companies. In 2013-14, the state had 296 charters operating some 370 schools — in 61% of them, charter boards have enlisted a full-service, for-profit management company. Another 17% rely on for-profits for other services, mostly staffing and human resources, according to Free Press research.
Michigan far exceeds states like Florida, Ohio and Missouri, where only about one-third of charters were run by a full-service, for-profit management company in 2011-12, according to research by Western Michigan University professor Gary Miron, who has studied charters extensively.
While the Free Press found disclosure issues with both for-profit and nonprofit companies, 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. In some cases, even charter school board members don’t get detailed information.
Without that, experts say there is no way to determine if a school is getting the most for its money.
Authorizers in Michigan receive 3% of the state tuition money for every student who attends a charter school they authorize. That means millions of dollars flow to the authorizing groups, who have no responsibility or accountability. Anyone can open a charter school in Michigan. Charter schools can fail and be reauthorized. Charter operators can run failing schools and get to open new ones. Success is unimportant. Michigan is a free-for-all with public money.
State law sets no qualifications for charter applicants
In Michigan, anyone and everyone can apply to open a charter school. There are no state guidelines for screening applicants.
And in many cases, authorizers have given additional charters to schools managed by companies that haven’t demonstrated academic success with their existing schools.
Central Michigan University, for example, gave two additional charters to schools managed by the for-profit Hanley-Harper Group Inc. in Harper Woods, before its first school had any state ranking and despite test scores that showed it below statewide proficiency rates in reading and math. The school’s first ranking, released last year, put it in the 14th percentile, meaning that 86% of schools in Michigan did better academically.
“We have a product, yes, we are trying to sell and constantly working to make … better and better and better,” company founder Beata Chochla, who has run several small businesses, including janitorial and home health care, told the Free Press in an interview.
Ferris State University has authorized a fourth Hanley-Harper school, expected to open this fall in Oak Park.
“We were convinced they had a good plan,” Ferris State’s interim charter schools director Ronald Rizzo said, adding that critics who believe an operator should have a successful academic track record before adding schools are “welcome” to their views.
Authorizers also have been slow to close poor performers. Among the oldest and poorest performing schools in metro Detroit:
■ Hope Academy, founded in Detroit in 1998, ranked almost rock-bottom — in the first percentile — in 2012-13.
■ Commonwealth Community Development Academy, founded in Detroit in 1996, ranked in the third percentile.
Both schools are authorized by Eastern Michigan University, which said in a statement that it is not satisfied with either. Yet just last year, EMU renewed Hope Academy’s charter.
The article includes a list of recent charter scandals:
■ A Sault Ste. Marie charter school board gave its administrator a severance package worth $520,000 in taxpayer money.
■ A Bedford Township charter school spent more than $1 million on swampland.
■ A mostly online charter school in Charlotte spent $263,000 on a Dale Carnegie confidence-building class, $100,000 more than it spent on laptops and iPads.
■ Two board members who challenged their Romulus school’s management company over finances and transparency were ousted when the length of their terms was summarily reduced by Grand Valley State University.
■ National Heritage Academies, the state’s largest for-profit school management company, charges 14 of its Michigan schools $1 million or more in rent — which many real estate experts say is excessive.
■ A charter school in Pittsfield Township gave jobs and millions of dollars in business to multiple members of the founder’s family.
■ Charter authorizers have allowed management companies to open multiple schools without a proven track record of success.
Want to get rich quick? Move to Michigan and open a charter school.