More than any other state, Michigan placed its bets on charter schools. This article shows what happened. Republican Governor John Engler sold his party on the miracle of school choice. Betsy DeVos jumped on the Choice bandwagon and financed its grip on the legislature. Although the article doesn’t mention it, Betsy and her husband funded a voucher referendum in 2000 that was overwhelmingly defeated.

The author Mark Binelli describes the mess that choice and charters have made of the state’s education system. The state is overrun by unaccountable charters, most of which operate for profit.

The damage has fallen most heavily on black children, especially in Detroit and in the districts where the state installed emergency managers and gave the public schools to for-profit charter operators.

Rich districts still have public schools.

Binelli writes:

“Michigan’s aggressively free-market approach to schools has resulted in one of the most deregulated educational environments in the country, a laboratory in which consumer choice and a shifting landscape of supply and demand (and profit motive, in the case of many charters) were pitched as ways to improve life in the classroom for the state’s 1.5 million public-school students. But a Brookings Institution analysis done this year of national test scores ranked Michigan last among all states when it came to improvements in student proficiency. And a 2016 analysis by the Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education policy and research organization, found that 70 percent of Michigan charters were in the bottom half of the state’s rankings. Michigan has the most for-profit charter schools in the country and some of the least state oversight. Even staunch charter advocates have blanched at the Michigan model.

“The story of Carver is the story of Michigan’s grand educational experiment writ small. It spans more than two decades, three governors and, now, the United States Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, whose relentless advocacy for unchecked “school choice” in her home state might soon, her critics fear, be going national. But it’s important to understand that what happened to Michigan’s schools isn’t solely, or even primarily, an education story: It’s a business story. Today in Michigan, hundreds of nonprofit public charters have become potential financial assets to outside entities, inevitably complicating their broader social missions. In the case of Carver, interested parties have included a for-profit educational management organization, or E.M.O., in Georgia; an Indian tribe in a remote section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; and a financial firm in Minnesota. “That’s all it is now — it’s moneymaking,” Darrel Redrick, a charter-school proponent and an administrator at Carver at the time I visited, told me.”