Allie Gross has been reporting on the misadventures of the charter industry in Detroit in the Metro Times.

 

This week, she wrote about a charter school, University Academy, that fired eight teachers without any explanation or cause. When teachers have no union, the school doesn’t need to give any explanation about why teachers are fired.

 

Last fall, Allie wrote about the $3.5 million that Michigan doled out to charter applicants who never opened a school.

 

The latter article includes a useful summary of the U.S. Department of Education’s very costly investment in the charter industry:

 

In 1995, four years after the first charter school law was enacted, the U.S. Department of Education started its Charter Schools Program grant. The general gist of the initiative was state education agencies could vie for funding and then host their own competitions for sub-grantees who wanted to create or expand charter schools.

 

The goal of the grant is two-pronged: 1. It aims to expand the number of “high-quality” charter schools across the nation and, 2. It seeks to evaluate the effects of charter schools. The first aim is achieved through three types of grants that the U.S. Department of Education asks state education agencies to offer: planning grants, implementation grants, and, lastly, dissemination grants.

 

That first year the department gave out just over $4 million; today it doles out upward of $125 million. According to the Department of Education, the federal government has spent more than $3 billion on the charter sector in the past 20 years.

 

Michigan received $23 million from the program in 2007 and in 2010 decided to apply again, this time asking for $44 million. By this point the state had 240 charter schools, and as the application explained, there was an expectation of growth. Just a few months earlier lawmakers decided to lift the cap on the number of charter schools university-authorizers could sponsor.

 

This predicted expansion was highlighted in MDE’s application, as was the goal of ensuring authorizers would have high quality operators to choose from when they weren’t burdened with a cap.

 

In 1995, the same year that the Charter Schools Program grants started, Michigan opened its first charter school, a National Heritage Academy in Grand Rapids. Today, NHA, which was started by billionaire J.C. Huizenga, is the state’s largest charter school operator, with 48 different schools across Michigan. This multi-site, for-profit model has proliferated in Michigan — currently, 79 percent of Michigan’s charter schools are run by for-profit charter management organizations — and cracking this monopoly was a stated goal in MDE’s application. Specifically Michigan explained how “planning funds” could help level the playing field and empower grassroots community groups with charter school ideas.