Report calls for more oversight of charter schools

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Capital News Service

LANSING — A recent report is calling for more state oversight of charter schools, saying there is a lack of transparent standards for universities and other institutions that authorize charters.

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan, a nonprofit public affairs research organization, said there are no state requirements forcing authorizers to demonstrate that they have the experience or ability to carry out their responsibilities. 

There also is no system for approving who can authorize schools, the report said.

Here are three other major findings in the report:

  • Lack of public awareness for how authorizers coordinate, revoke or renew charters.
  • Absence of coherent standards among 40 organizations that authorize charters.
  • Michigan charter schools’ reliance on for-profit management companies to operate them to a greater extent than other states.

Michigan has 370 charters, also known as public school academies, that account for 10% of the state’s public school enrollment. They are funded by state aid but their school boards are not elected by the public.

Universities authorize almost 70% of those charters. Grand Valley and Central Michigan are the two largest authorizers, supervising 120 charters.

“Charter authorizers have immense responsibility, but they don’t have clear standards on how to do their jobs and if they are doing them well or not,” said David Arsen, a professor of education policy at Michigan State University. 

The Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers responded to the report by saying, “University authorizers of public charter schools in Michigan are fully accountable to the boards of their institutions, the Department of Education, the law and the tens of thousands of parents who have entrusted their children’s education to a public charter school.”

The council said, “In that sentence are more facts than are in the 50-plus pages of the Citizens Research report on charter school oversight.”

Paula Herbart, president of the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest union of teachers and a critic of current oversight of charters, said, “The MEA strongly concurs with the findings of the Citizens Research study. 

“For years, we have urged the Legislature to mandate increased reporting requirements and oversight of Michigan charter schools,” Herbart said.

Charters in the state have come under increasing scrutiny after a report by the Center for Media and Democracy found that from 2010 to 2015, 25 Michigan charters received nearly $1.7 million in state aid but never opened. 

The center is a progressive nonprofit watchdog and advocacy organization based in Madison, Wisconsin.

A recent national report ranking state public charter school laws ranked Michigan in the bottom third, saying the state could do better by requiring stricter application requirements and ensuring equitable access to capital funding and facilities. 

The report came from Washington, D.C.-based National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which advocates for charters.

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