LANSING, Mich. (MIRS News) – After the education budget is put to bed, look for Democratic lawmakers to take up transparency mandates on Michigan’s charter schools.
“I don’t think that we are in a position to do anything around reducing the number of charter schools in Michigan. I think charter schools are here to stay,” said Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton), chair of the Senate PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee. “We’re looking at ‘how can you regulate the system that currently lacks regulation? How can you open up transparency and accountability for public tax dollars being utilized by private for-profit companies in some instances?'”
While on today’s episode of the MIRS Monday podcast, Camilleri said in Detroit during the mid-2010s, Michigan witnessed a charter school system he described as “wreaking havoc on the overall educational landscape.”
He said charter schools would open up in the same neighborhood as traditional public schools or preexisting charter schools and generate a “situation that had way more seats than students available.”
According to a November 2022 report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the state-level enrollment in charter schools in Michigan grew by 2.14% between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 academic years, while non-charter public schools saw statewide enrollment fall by 4.22% during the COVID-19 pandemic’s main years.
While they were in the minority last term, the Democrats introduced unsuccessful bills creating the School Freedom, Accountability, Choice and Transparency (FACT) Act, which would have opened up the for-profit organizations overseeing a charter school operation to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) under Democrats’ proposals.
Additionally, education management organizations (EMOs) would need to be audited annually and their board of directors would be instructed to ensure property leases or purchases reflected fair market rates.
Ultimately, charter schools – public school academies – would be expected to hold monthly school board meetings subject to the state’s Open Meetings Act (OMA), would need to upload their annual student recruitment expenses and would be barred from expanding if they are performing in the bottom 5% of schools.
Without referencing last term’s bills specifically, which featured both him and now-Senate Education Chair Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia) as sponsors, Camilleri told MIRS he wants to open up the books on Michigan’s charter schools.
“We need additional transparency. We have not seen a lot of discussion on that yet. But we’re hopeful to be part of that process, post-budget,” Camilleri said. “So stay tuned, I think there’ll be a lot more to come.”
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has published that throughout the United States, EMOs account for 9% of charter schools while non-profit charter management organizations (CMOs) make up 26%.
The Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA), which highlights data showcasing that charter schools are 32% more cost effective than the average traditional public school in the same city, opposed Democrats’ 2021-22 legislation.
“Charter schools are the most open, transparent and accountable of all public schools. They are subject to every law related to accountability that a traditional public school is, and a whole lot more,” said MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry in March 2022. “This legislation does nothing to improve student achievement. This is nothing but an attempt by these legislators to please their special-interest groups at the expense of students.”