Archives for category: Michigan

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.”

In a continuing series of articles about charter schools in Michigan the Detroit Free Press reports that the state’s weak charter legislation enables unscrupulous charter organizations to engage in self-dealing and conflicts of interest.

 

The article yesterday said that Michigan’s nearly 300 charter schools collect about $1 billion and have almost no accountability. The Michigan charters do no outperform the public schools.

 

The story about the weak law begins like this:

 

In September 2005, Emma Street Holdings bought property on Sibley Road in Huron Township for $375,000. Six days later, Emma Street sold the parcel to Summit Academy North, a charter school, for $425,000.

 

Who made the quick $50,000 at the school’s expense? The founders of Emma Street, two men with close ties to the school — one was president of Summit’s management company, the other was married to Summit’s top administrator.

 

The deal is emblematic of how friends, relatives and insiders can find ways to cash in on the nearly $1 billion a year state taxpayers spend on Michigan’s charter schools.

 

The law does not bar insider deals:

 

Boards are free to give contracts to friends and relatives of the school’s administrators and founders. Privately owned management companies that run charter schools don’t have to disclose whom they’ve hired as employees or vendors, so they are free to hire board members’ friends. School founders are not prohibited from running both a school and its management company.

 

The new law also does not bar a transaction such as the Summit land deal.

 

The article provides many examples of conflicts of interest that are legal in Michigan.

 

 

 

The Detroit Free Press is running a week-long series about Michigan’s charter sector. The first story was about a $1 billion industry with no accountability and poor results. Most charters in the state operate for profit.

The industry’s response? National Heritage Academies, a for-profit charter chain, bought up the advertising space around the story to tout their wares. See the screen shot.

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