Archives for category: Michigan

In state after state, charter schools are proving that it is downright risky to turn public money over to deregulated corporations and unqualified individuals to run schools. The Detroit Free Press series on the scams, frauds, and corruption in many Michigan charters was an eye-opener for all those who are not part of the charter movement. The exposé of similar frauds in Florida by the League of Women Voters in Florida was enlightening to anyone other than free market ideologues. The same level of corruption–actually, even worse–exists in Ohio’s charter sector, where a small number of charter founders have become multi-millionaires, run low-performing schools, and are never held accountable.

One of the most colorful charter scandals occurred when a Cleveland charter operator was tried for funneling over $1million to his church and other businesses. The charter founder was a pastor, not an educator. His attorney said ““his client had good intentions when opening the school on East 55th Street but then got greedy when he saw easy opportunities to make money….”

The leader of California’s most celebrated charter school, with outstanding test scores, stepped down when an audit revealed that nearly $4 million had been diverted to his other businesses.

In Arizona, the Arizona Republic exposed charters that were family businesses, giving contracts to family members and board members.

In Chicago, the head of the city’s largest charter chain resigned after the media reported large contracts given to family members of school leaders and other conflicts of interest and misuse of public funds.

Last week, one of Connecticut’s most celebrated charter organizations was at the center of the latest scandal. Its CEO was revealed to have a criminal past and a falsified résumé. Two top executives immediately resigned, and legislators and journalists began to ask questions. No background checks? Accountability? Transparency?

Colin McEnroe wrote in the Hartford Courant’s blog that hustlers were cashing in on the charter school craze. Not just in Connecticut, but in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, California, Ohio, Arizona, on and on.

McEnroe wrote:

“The message is always the same: The essential concept behind the charter school movement is that, freed from the three Rs — restraints, rules and regulations — these schools could innovate and get the kinds of results that calcified, logy public schools could only dream about. And they do … sometimes.

“But handing out uncountable millions to operators who would be given a free hand was also like putting a big sign out by the highway that says “Welcome Charlatans, Grifters, Credential-Fakers, Cherry-Pickers, Stat-Jukers, Cult of Personality Freaks and People Who Have No Business Running a Dairy Queen, Much Less a School.” And they’ve all showed up. This is the Promised Land: lots of cash and a mission statement that implicitly rejects the notion of oversight…..

“What else goes with those big bubbling pots of money? A new layer of lobbyists and donation-bundlers. The Free Press documented the way a lawmaker who dared to make a peep of protest against charter schools getting whatever they want suddenly found himself in a race against a challenger heavily funded by the Great Lakes Education Project, the “powerhouse lobby” of the Michigan charter movement. Jon Lender of The Courant recently showed how one family of charter school advocates had crammed $90,000 into Connecticut Democratic Party coffers.”

If there were more investigations, more charter scandals would be disclosed.

When will public officials call a halt to the scams, conflicts of interest, self-dealing, nepotism, and corruption?

There is one defensible role for charter schools and that is to do what public schools can’t do. There is no reason to create a dual school system, with one free to choose its students and to cherry pick the best students, while the other must take all students. There is no reason to give charters to non-educators. There is no reason to allow charter operators to pocket taxpayer dollars for their own enrichment while refusing to be fully accountable for how public money is spent. Where public money goes, public accountability must follow.

The Detroit Free Press published a series of deeply researched articles about the charter schools in the state, most of which operate for profit. The state spends $1 billion on charters but does not hold them accountable for financial practices or academic outcomes. Charter schools do NOT get better results educating students in poverty.

Will legislators or the governor care? Not as long as the charter lobby keeps sending in those campaign contributions.

Here is the summary of the series: (Open the article for many links and videos)

A yearlong Free Press investigation of Michigan’s charter schools found wasteful spending, conflicts of interest, poor performing schools and a failure to close the worst of the worst. Among the findings:

Charter schools spend $1 billion per year in state taxpayer money, often with little transparency.

Some charter schools are innovative and have excellent academic outcomes — but those that don’t are allowed to stay open year after year.

A majority of the worst-ranked charter schools in Michigan have been open 10 years or more.

Charter schools as a whole fare no better than traditional schools in educating students in poverty.

Michigan has substantially more for-profit companies running schools than any other state.

Some charter school board members were forced out after demanding financial details from management companies.

State law does not prevent insider dealing and self-enrichment by those who operate schools.

This article tells the story of Mary T. Wood, a woman in Michigan who has devoted nine years to tracking the spending and management of the state’s charter schools.

She is not a public official. No one pays her. She took on this mission when she enrolled her daughter in a charter school in 1999, which did not have approval of its building so spent the first month doing field trips and other outdoor activities. She began to wonder about the lack of oversight or supervision by the state. And she became a watchdog.

“For nearly a decade, the college-educated, stay-at-home, 54-year-old Warren mother of five has made it her life’s work to be a one-woman force of accountability for the state’s 230 charter schools, or “public school academies” as they’re officially called.

“And she’s forcing others to take note.

“The state board itself has taken a greater interest, really an interest, in looking at the details of charter school authorization and proliferation,” says Elizabeth Bauer, a member of the state board of education, who says she admires Wood. “She has definitely clarified those kinds of arrangements and brought them into a focus so people actually pay attention.”

“Michigan’s first 41 charter schools opened in 1995, and this fall there will be 232. About 6 percent of Michigan students attend a public school academy, which ranks Michigan fourth among states for the rate of charter school enrollment, according to the Michigan Department of Education.
Last year, enrollment topped 100,000, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies announced, with this year’s enrollment projected to grow.

“Michigan legislators this fall are expected to debate allowing a greater number of charters in Detroit as they refine laws related to schools.

“Test results are mixed, depending on varying interpretations of test scores. On the fall 2006 English and math MEAP for grades third through eighth, charter school students performed below the overall state average but better than the public school districts in which they were located.
According to state data, on the spring ACT this year, the average composite score for students at the 53 charter high schools throughout the state that reported them was 15.5, lower than the state average of 18.8 and a little higher than Detroit Public Schools’ average of 15.3. Just three of the 53 charter high schools outperformed Detroit’s top two high schools.

“But academic performance aside, Wood’s biggest concern about charter schools, in a nutshell, is that there is not enough oversight of the public money spent on these schools; there’s a general lack of accountability throughout the system.

“Unfortunately, this issue is politically based, and people are positioned in key places to permit improprieties to happen on a regular basis because I am certain that they believe nobody would know the difference,” she says.”

Nearly 20 years of experience with charter schools, which–according to the Detroit Free Press–collect $1 billion in public revenues, and the state still does not supervise them. Any attempt to do so is quickly stymied by lobbyists an campaign contributions to key legislators.

The press in Michigan is waking up to the fact that charter schools do not get better results than public schools (and many get worse results), and lack of supervision and regulation clears the way for fraud and corruption.

The Lansing State Journal reportson the failed promise of charter schools, which soak up $1 billion a year from taxpayers.

“Two decades into Michigan’s charter school experience, it’s clear that some schools excel academically, others don’t — and charters have not found the key to educating children in poverty.

“In other words, their results are similar in many ways to the traditional public schools they hoped to outperform.

“Of the charter schools ranked by the state during the 2012-13 school year, 38% fell below the 25th percentile, meaning at least 75% of all state public schools performed better, according to a Free Press review of data published by the state. This includes charters operated by for-profit and nonprofit companies, as well as self-managed schools. That compares with 23% of traditional schools below the 25th percentile.

“And, reflecting Michigan’s loose oversight of charter schools, a majority of the lowest-performing charters have been around for 10 years or more — despite research that shows the success of a charter school can be determined in the first three years of existence.”

Charter schools have been the beneficiary of a myth, the myth that a free market in schooling will produce miraculous results. Unfortunately, like most myths, it is not true. Deregulation translates into lack of supervision and oversight. In the absence of supervision of public funds, scams, frauds, and corruption flourish.

Jeff Bryant here reviews some of the egregious examples of charter school corruption in Ohio, Michigan, and Florida. Billions of taxpayer dollars are being transferred to the private sector, where no one supervises how those dollars are spent. Worse, the businesses that get the money spend large sums to hire lobbyists and to contribute to key legislators to make sure their charters remain free of oversight.

It is alarming that Congress is about to hand more money over to the same shady entrepreneurs and to encourage more of them to jump into the unregulated, very profitable charter industry.

In its continuing investigation of charter schools in Michigan, the Detroit Free Press published a stunning article about the powerlessness of charter board members.

 

Jennifer Dixon writes:

 

As president of the board of the Detroit Enterprise Academy, Sandra Clark-Hinton was pressing hard for detailed financial records from a representative of the charter school’s management company.

 

His response: The documents were “none of the board’s business,” Clark-Hinton told fellow board members at a 2010 meeting, recounting her phone conversation with the company official. She resigned later that night, saying she’d had enough.

 

Charter school board members are supposed to oversee the finances of their school, maintain independence from their management company and make information available to the public.

 

That’s the law in Michigan. But it doesn’t always happen.

 

In its investigation into how Michigan’s charter schools perform and spend nearly $1 billion a year in taxpayer dollars, the Free Press found board members who were kept clueless by their management companies about school budgets or threatened and removed by a school’s authorizer when they tried to exercise the responsibilities that come with their oath of office.

 

Board members removed by an authorizer have no recourse in Michigan.

 

“There have been board members who have basically said, ‘We tried to make changes, we tried to instill our rights as board members overseeing a public school’ and were essentially told to back off,” said Casandra Ulbrich, vice president of the state Board of Education, which sets education policy and advises lawmakers. “You have to question who’s really running the show here because technically and legally, it’s supposed to be the board.”

 

In traditional school districts, with elected boards, members can’t be removed for asking tough questions. Voters get to decide whether to re-elect a board member.

 

Examples:

 

■ In Detroit, board member Gary Sands said he was appalled to discover that Detroit Enterprise Academy, authorized by Grand Valley State University, spent nearly $1 million a year to lease its building from the management company. But when he and other board members sought financial information, he said they were rebuffed. “We were … treated as a student council.”

“We weren’t even a rubber stamp,” said Sands. “We were a bunch of faces.”

■ In Romulus, the school’s management company and authorizer put up a united front against Metro Charter Academy board members who sought a cheaper lease with the management company and asked for more detailed records of board meetings and finances. Grand Valley, the school’s authorizer, suggested the entire board resign — and summarily reduced the term of office for two who refused.

“We’re the ones safeguarding taxpayer money,” said Justin Mordarski, one of the two removed. “If we just let that money pass through … it’s just basically state money flowing to a private company with no public oversight. And we said in good conscience, we can’t do that. It goes against our training. It goes against our oath to the state Constitution.”

 

 

Susan J. Demas, publisher and editor of Inside Michigan Politics, writes that the exposé of charter school scandals by the Detroit Free Press should cause Governor Snyder and his allies to admit they were wrong about schools run without supervision by entrepreneurs.

She writes:

“Education should be about children, not adults.

“For the past three years, Republicans wielded this powerful soundbite as a weapon while they reshaped public education in Michigan to fit their free-market ideology.

“If you cared about kids, you backed their plan to help open dozens more online and charter schools run by good-hearted private businesses.

“If you didn’t, you were determined to damn students to failing public schools so you could deviously enrich fat-cat union teachers.

“The fact that outright falsehoods and gross oversimplifications passed for high-minded debate in the Legislature should make us all weep.”

Michelle Rhee helped. To write the law and spent $1 million to help it get passed. Now charlatans and grifters are using their charter schools as their personal piggy banks and cashing in on kids. Taxpayers are defrauded. Scams, self-dealing, and fraud are commonplace.

Demas calls on the governor and the legislature to correct their mistakes. That will take courage. Sadly, in many states where school money is handed out to greedy and unscrupulous entrepreneurs, they give generously to key politicians to protect their domain. Yes, it will take courage to protect the children from those who are using them as profit centers.

The Lansing (Michigan) State Journal explains why the charter law lacks teeth.

The law permits conflict of interest, nepotism, self-dealing and other scams.

Why? Charters are a $1 billion industry annually. Charter chains and founders hire lobbyists and give generously to politicians. The charter lobby has given $1.3 million since 2003. It plans to spend $1 million for pro-charter candidates in this fall’s elections.

And that is why the charter law in Michigan is weak and permits scams and frauds with public money intended for public schools.

When the board of Metro Charter Academy in Romulus, Michigan asked too many questions of the for-profit management company running the school, the university that authorized the charter stepped in to discipline the board. Grand Valley State University defended National Heritage Academies.

According to the latest installment by the Detroit Free Press in its series about charter schools:

“Some board members were critical of the school’s $854,560 annual lease with the Grand Rapids company and the way NHA kept their meeting minutes (not detailed enough, in their opinion). And some wanted to expand the academy to include a high school.

“Ultimately, Grand Valley, which had authorized the school and was responsible for oversight, asked all four board members to consider resigning. Leonard Mungo and Justin Mordarski refused.

“So Grand Valley’s Board of Trustees voted Feb. 13, 2004, to summarily cut short their three-year terms.”

One university employee went to work for National Heritage Academies.

This is the third in a series by the Detroit Free Press about the remarkable conflicts of interest, nepotism, and self-dealing in Michigan charter schools, which collect $1 billion a year in public funds.

Read it and be amazed that legislators and law enforcement officials permit this blatant misuse of public funds.

The story begins:

“Alison Cancilliari was a Grosse Ile teacher making $64,000 when she and her husband, builder Dino Cancilliari, founded Summit Academy in 1996 in Flat Rock.

“A second charter school, Summit Academy North in Huron Township, soon followed, and the couple would later claim they invested more than $750,000 to launch the charter schools.

“They would also be accused of a textbook case of self-enrichment as millions of dollars in school funds were steered into companies founded by the Cancilliaris and the president of the schools’ for-profit management company.”

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