Free Press report on charter schools prompts MDE, legislative responses

The week-long series last month by the Detroit Free Press on charter schools has caught the attention of State Superintendent Mike Flanagan and Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville. The paper's investigative report found issues with charter schools' transparency and oversight.

Flanagan says he will begin using the power he has to suspend the ability of public universities, school districts and others to authorize charter schools He is also asking the Department of Education (MDE) to develop new financial, transparency and academic principles to govern charter schools. 

Flanagan said, "The series of news articles has prompted me to think differently about whether to revoke an authorizer's ability to open new charter schools."

According to the Free Press, after 20 years in existence, there is little accountability or transparency when it comes to the $1 billion in taxpayer dollars charter schools receive each year. The newspaper also claimed that academic performance is not necessarily better than traditional public schools when it comes to educating students in poverty, and low-performing charter schools are allowed to continue for years without any accountability.

There are 370 charter schools in Michigan which teach about 140,000 students. Central Michigan, Grand Valley State and Saginaw Valley State universities are the lead authorizers of charter schools in the state.

Richardville is promising legislation that would provide more oversight. He is looking at other states to see how they regulate charter schools. The Free Press series highlighted Massachusetts as an example Michigan could follow. 

Others have also weighed in on the issue. As a result of the paper's series, Mark Schauer, candidate for governor, called for an end to the "profit motive" in charter schools. 

Charter school supporters say they welcome the scrutiny-as long as it also extends to traditional public schools. Gov. Snyder said he believed there could be value in looking at oversight and transparency in all schools.