After a year-long investigation, the Detroit Free Press published a scathing report on the state’s thriving charter sector.
Charter schools receive $1 billion in taxpayer funding with virtually no accountability.
They get worse results than traditional public schools.
140,000 children attend charter schools in Michigan.
Michigan has more for-profit charters than any other state. The for-profit organizations are secretive about their finances because they are private.
“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.”
““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.”
Some examples of charter abuses of the public trust:
“Michigan’s laws are either nonexistent or so lenient that there are often no consequences for abuses or poor academics. Taxpayers and parents are left clueless about how charter schools spend the public’s money, and lawmakers have resisted measures to close schools down for poor academic performance year after year.
“The Free Press found that questionable decisions, excessive spending and misuse of taxpayer dollars run the gamut:
■ 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.”