Martin Levine, writing in the Nonprofit Quarterly, explains that the example of Michigan is strong evidence that Betsy DeVos’ plans to impose choice will harm education.

Before launching a huge new initiative, it is important to have trials and see how things work out. That is why the Common Core failed. Its advocates were so eager to shove it into every state that they couldn’t take the time to see how it worked in reality, in real classrooms with real teachers and real students. They didn’t have time for feedback from practitioners. They had no idea how it would work out. And it blew up in their faces.

Martin Levine says look at Michigan if you want to know how school choice and characterizing works.

Michigan has allowed market forces to replace the planning and oversight roles for which government was traditionally responsible. Control of public education was moved from local school officials to a diverse statewide network that includes universities and community colleges alongside local school boards. A chartering organization can sanction and supervise schools anywhere in the state with no requirement that they understand or are committed to the community the school will serve.

This suggests that rather than plan for the needs of a community from a single, local perspective, Michigan wants the broader market to serve as the control rod. A school in the southeastern corner of the state serving a poor community of color can be chartered by an organization hundreds of miles away with little or no connection to the school’s home neighborhood. The motivation of a chartering organization can be the welfare of the children, or the three percent of per-pupil funding it will receive for its efforts.

The result has been an unbridled expansion of charters and a glutted marketplace:

Since 2002, K-12 student enrollment has dropped by 214,000 in Michigan, but the number of charter schools has doubled. In 2011, state lawmakers abolished the longstanding charter-school cap…So many new schools have opened in Detroit that there are an estimated 30,000 empty seats in the district.

Finding qualified teachers is difficult, as limited supply must stretch to cover too many classrooms. With open enrollment in force, scarce resources must be spent on marketing if a school expects to attract students and remain viable.

In Michigan, public education is a profit-making business. For-profit organizations can and do own and operate public schools, and for-profit businesses have grown to provide goods and services to the charter community. Eighty percent of Michigan’s charter schools are operated and managed by for-profit management organizations. Other for-profits facilitate the buying and selling of school property, finance school operations, and provide the array of goods and services a school needs, day to day. All of this business runs with little oversight, open to conflicts of interest and fraud. When these parasitic businesses fail, or privately-operated charter schools run into financial trouble, they close up shop and exit the marketplace. Their debts may remain a public responsibility to be repaid from taxes, and their students are on their own to find another school to attend.

Scott VanderWerp, who runs the public finance group at Oak Ridge Financial, told the Times how profitable the educational sector could be doing transactions that had little to do with educating children: Just buy some buildings “for a couple hundred thousand bucks, lease them to the school for a couple of years, and then sell them to the school for a few million.” Money meant to teach children is quietly converted into corporate earnings.

What are the results? Abysmal. If test scores are your goal, Michigan’s scores have plummeted. 70% of the charters in Michigan are among the lowest performing in the state. If growth is what you care about, Michigan is dead last.

Levine concludes:

We know enough to know that the market is not the magic bullet to deal with problems in traditional public schooling. Inadequate funding is nor improved by adding competition or funneling dollars to the profit bucket. Weak communities don’t get stronger because we distance schools from community. Change may be needed, but not the one the White House and its associated megadonors are pushing.

Common sense. But who cares about common sense these days? Who cares about evidence? Money rules, and money ruins. We are talking about the education of our children, not profits. Or we should be.

Michigan is Betsy DeVos’s petri dish. Michigan proves that her reforms have failed.