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New report on the failure of Charter Schools, lists Michigan as the worst

December 17, 2019

A new report from the Network for Public Education, entitled, Still Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Results in a Pile of Fraud and Waste, identifies Michigan as having the worst record on Charter School abuse of funds.

The report, which looks at the Charter Schools at the national level, begins their report with an example of how undemocratic the Charter Schools are in Michigan.

“In May of 2019, the Michigan State Board of Education voted to stop the disbursement of a $47 million grant from the federal Charter Schools Program (CSP). The duly elected Board had good reason to take action, especially given that the Michigan Department of Education had applied for the money without the Board’s consent. Ironically, just three years before, the Michigan Department’s 2015 grant application had been rejected by the CSP; reviewers of the application noted the lack of supervision of the 44 authorizers that approve and monitor the state’s charter schools. Charter school authorizing had become a lucrative business for colleges and universities that enjoy a three percent cut of the millions of tax dollars that charter schools receive each year. Nearly 80 percent of the charters in Michigan are controlled by for-profits that have their vested interest in growth as well. But Washington had changed, and now Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos was in charge. Previous reservations about oversight were set aside and her home state got the grant.

State Board of Education President, Casandra Ulbrich, explained to us why the Board tried to block the grant.

The State Board of Education was presented with a set of grant criteria to ultimately spend up to $47 million expanding and creating new charters in Michigan. The Board was never consulted when the state applied for the funds, and had severe reservations focusing on two areas. The first was concern over previous use of the grant funds. The second was whether a state with a 17-year record of student enrollment declines, and parallel declines in student achievement, needed to open more charter schools. Following the vote, I began reviewing previous grant information and today, am even more alarmed by what I have found.

Despite the objections of the state’s elected Board, the Michigan Attorney General ruled that the grant must be dispersed.”

Some of the major finds from the report are listed here:

  • The disbursement of over one billion dollars during the program’s first decade was never monitored for its impact or results. There is no record of which schools received the funds.
  • Although the overall rate of failed charter projects was 37 percent, in some states the rate of failure was much higher. The Michigan failure rate was over 44 percent ($21 million).
  • Five hundred thirty-seven (537) schools listed in the database never opened at all. Many received over $100,000 in federal funds. In Michigan 77 Charter Schools never opened. 
  • Although Congress forbids for-profit operators from directly receiving CSP grants, they still benefit by having their schools apply.

The report has lots of great case studies, data and clear recommendations on how to move forward. The two most important recommendations are:

  • that Congress end appropriations for new charter school grants in the upcoming budget and continue funding only for obligated amounts only to legitimate projects.
  • thorough audits by Congress of previous grant awards, the establishment of regulations to ensure grant awards still under term are being responsibly carried out and that misspent money is returned to the federal coffers.

West Michigan is the home of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, yet we have seen limited news coverage or investigation on funding for Charter Schools or Charter School performance evaluations.

One of the largest Charter School operations is run by the National Heritage Academies Inc. The CEO of the National Heritage Academies is JC Huizenga, a person who is part of the Grand Rapids Power Structure and a major player in far right politics, especially as a board member of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Acton Institute and the West Michigan Policy Forum.

 

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