charter schools

The Muskegon Heights School District could be completely turned over to charter schools this fall.   That would be a first in the state of Michigan.   

The district’s emergency manager is submitting his plan to replace the entire school district with charter schools with the state Treasury and Education Departments today.  He says that’s the only way to get the district out of its financial crisis.

The Detroit Public School system will shrink again next fall, as the district scrambles to revamp itself amidst declining enrollment.

This is just the latest in several waves of restructuring, as the district must constantly re-adjust to a student population that shrinks every year—and has fallen about 60% overall since 2000, from more than 167,000 students to about 69,000.

A spokesman for Michigan’s charter schools does not expect a new law that took effect this month will translate into a surge in the number of charter schools in the state.   

This week, the application period started for groups wanting to open charter schools in the state. A new law which took effect January 1 doubled the number of charter schools allowed in Michigan.   

Dan Quisenberry is the president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. Quisenberry believes there is room for growth, but he expects the number of charter schools will grow slowly over the next few years.  

“The new law will probably have more effect on fall 2013," said Quisenberry,  "And even then we wouldn’t expect some kind of dramatic change."  

The law Governor Snyder signed in December will eventually do away with the state cap on charter schools in Michigan. Critics complain increasing the number of charter schools will drain financial resources needed by existing public schools. 

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Governor Rick Snyder has signed a bill into law that gets rid of the cap on the number of university-sponsored charter schools in the state.

Snyder said he hopes allowing more charter schools to open their doors in Michigan will encourage all schools to improve their performance.

“One of the nice parts about charters is it really emphasizes innovation and entrepreneurial ideas about how to really advance education,” said Snyder. “It’s the system of school concept that you’re going to see more and more across all education – that it’s not just about a district, it’s about schools being successful.”

Critics of the measure say the law does not include enough assurances that charter schools meet high standards. And they say charter schools leave out special-needs students through selective enrollment and interviewing.

Governor Snyder said treatment of students with special needs is a concern.

 “I would like to say that there’s a better job in general that we can do with special-needs kids, and that’s something that a more comprehensive review would be appropriate – including the intermediate school districts, the whole process of how we do it today, and how we can work better together. Because it’s important, again, to have all our kids be as successful as possible,” Snyder said.

The law will allow an unlimited number of university-sponsored charter schools to operate in Michigan by 2015.

A proposal to get rid of the limit on the number of university-sponsored K–12 charter schools in the state is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder’s desk. The state Senate gave final approval to the measure yesterday at the state Capitol. Democratic lawmakers say it will hurt traditional public schools.

Republican state Senator Phil Pavlov said the final version of the bill should be more acceptable to everyone.

“There were some additional transparency measures included in this legislation, as well as a gradual lifting of the authorizers on the public school academies,” said Pavlov.

The bill would allow unlimited university-sponsored charters in the state by the year 2015. And it would require charters to report back to their authorizers on whether the new schools are meeting their academic goals. The bill does not require the charters to meet exceptional performance standards.

The state House has approved a measure that would allow an unlimited number of university-sponsored K-12 charter schools to operate in Michigan by the year 2015.

The proposal would lift the cap on university charters over a couple years, eventually eliminating the restriction on the number of charters altogether.

Democratic state Representative Steven Lindberg says that could lead to more failing public schools if charter schools are allowed to interview and hand-pick their students.

“It saddens me, because I see us going back to a time when we’re going to have separate but unequal education in this country.”

The measure would require universities to consider county populations and the number of kids in an area that are on charter school waiting lists before opening a new charter school.

Republican state Representative Deb Shaughnessy is on the House Education Committee.

“Many people have tried to paint this legislation as an attack on traditional public schools. I vehemently reject that portrayal. I don’t buy it, and I urge you not to either. I graduated from public school, and so did my children, and my children are leading very productive and successful lives.”

The measure now heads back to the state Senate for final approval.

user jdurham / morgueFile

Michigan’s Republican-led Senate has passed a measure that removes the 150-school cap on university-sponsored charters. The bill is now stalled in the House.

The way the current cap works: If a charter is considered "high performing," it is re-labeled a School of Excellence, and removed from the cap, which leaves a vacancy for a new university-sponsored charter school to fill.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Momentum for a proposal to allow more university-sponsored charter schools in Michigan appears to have slowed in the state Legislature.

Some lawmakers and schools lobbyists said that’s because the measure does not require charter schools to prove their success.

Democratic state Representative Lisa Brown said the measure should include a requirement that charter schools meet performance standards before opening in Michigan.

“I’m for quality education and every child should have a right to high quality education. There’s nothing in this bill that provides that,” said Brown.

Ari Adler, a spokesman for state House Speaker Jase Bolger, disagreed. Adler said the majority of charter schools in Michigan have long waiting lists for student enrollment. And he said that’s a reflection of high performance.

“So obviously they’re doing something right or parents wouldn’t be lining up to take their kids there," said Adler. "But we are going to be looking at -- this year and well into next year -- quality education in Michigan and how that quality can be improved. And that would be at charter public schools, traditional public schools and all forms of education."

Opponents of eliminating the state’s charter school cap say a third of existing charters have poor performance records.

It’s unclear if the charter school bill will be approved before the end of the year.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

More charter schools may soon be allowed to open in Michigan. The state House is expected to vote this week on a measure that would get rid of the cap on the number of university-sponsored charter schools in the state.

State Representative Tom McMillin chairs the House Education Committee. He said it’s important for lawmakers to approve the changes before they leave for a winter break.

“I want to unchain as many kids as I can from failing schools,” said McMillin. “And the sooner we put in place how that can be done, the more that people who are interested in filling that need that desperate need, will be able to start planning and putting it in process so they don’t lose a year, you know so they can do it quicker.”

But Peter Spadafore disagrees. Spadafore is with the Michigan Association of School Boards, which opposes the proposed changes. He said most of the testimony lawmakers heard was from representatives of high-performing charter schools.

“But what’s not being talked about is that one third of failing schools in the state of Michigan are charter schools, and one third of all charter schools are on the bottom 20 percent of the Michigan Department of Education’s list of persistently low-achieving schools,” Spadafore said.

Spadafore said the proposal should include requirements that all charter schools perform well as a condition of staying open.

Supporters of the measure say parents and students –especially in neighborhoods with low-performing public schools – deserve more options.

It seems pretty clear that Republicans are intent on ramming through legislation that will result in a vast expansion of Michigan charter schools. Up to now, there has been a limit on how many could be authorized. Charter schools had to be sanctioned by universities, and no university could charter more than 150 of them.

Yesterday, the House Education Committee approved a bill  removing that cap. New committee chair Tom McMillan pretty much gaveled down any attempt by minority Democrats to amend the bill, with one minor exception.

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - A proposal designed to allow more charter schools or public school academies in Michigan has taken a step forward.

The Republican-led House Education Committee on Wednesday approved a bill that would end some numerical and geographical limits on charter schools. The bill passed by an 11-6, mostly party line vote and advances to the House floor.

The measure narrowly passed the Republican-led Senate in October.

The state has roughly 250 charter schools. Supporters say more should be allowed to boost educational options in public schools.

Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Democrats at the state Capitol are calling for an amendment to the Michigan constitution that would outlaw for-profit schools. Four out of five charter schools in Michigan currently operate as for-profit schools.

Democratic state Senator Rebekah Warren said only 17 percent of charter schools out-perform traditional public schools. She said school aid money should not go toward profits for businesses.

Warren said her amendment would not ban charter schools, but it would reform how they operate.

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More for-profit schools coming to Michigan?

The Republican-led legislature is planning to resume its push to allow more charter schools in the state. The Associated Press reports the discussions will start in the House Education Committee this week:

The education committee has scheduled hearings for Tuesday and Wednesday on the legislation that would end some numerical and geographical limits on charter schools. It narrowly passed the Republican-led Senate in October.

The state has roughly 250 charter schools. Supporters say more should be allowed to boost educational options in public schools.

Democrats say it appears to be an effort to help charter schools that are sometimes run by for-profit companies at the expense of other schools.

Democratic Sen. Rebekah Warren of Ann Arbor on Tuesday plans to propose a constitutional amendment to ban for-profit schools. It's unlikely that proposal would advance in the Republican-led Legislature.

Remembering Frederik Meijer

The man who started "Meijer Thrifty Acres" with his father in 1962 died last Friday at the age of 91 after suffering a stroke. Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith reported on today's public visitation:

Meijer spokesman Frank Guglielmi says they’re expecting at least 10,000 people to travel to Grand Rapids Tuesday for the public visitation.

“The Meijer family wanted to give the community an opportunity to pay their respects to Fred because he meant so much to so many people, not just in Grand Rapids but really in the state of Michigan,” Guglielmi said.

The public visitation will take place at the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids from from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. There will be a private funeral tomorrow at a Grand Rapids church.

Wet weather, rain turning to snow

The rain is falling, and the National Weather Service says snow is on the way.

Counties in the south and southeast part of the state have a mix of winter storm watches, flood watches, and flood warnings.

Rain will fall until late afternoon. That could turn to snow later with accumulations of around an inch.  Later tonight the winds will pick up and snow accumulations could be around 2 to 6 inches for much of the south and southeast part of the state.

Thirteen years ago, Doug Ross lost Michigan’s Democratic primary for governor -- and that might turn out to be one of the best things that ever happened to education in Detroit.

We’ve been spending a lot of time lately trying to figure out how to fix our schools, which don’t seem to be working. Some people think the best solution is to essentially abandon the public schools, and turn things over to various sets of for-profit charter schools.

Others are dubious about that, even though it is clear that the public schools aren‘t working for a lot of kids.

Well, I was someplace earlier this week where they are trying something different, and it may be worth thinking about here. I was in Toledo, Ohio, just a long fly ball from the Michigan border.

We usually think of Franklin D. Roosevelt today as the quintessential liberal, big government president -- and in today’s polarized politics, both sides look back at his New Deal as the time when things either started going right or wrong, depending.

However, FDR didn’t think of himself that way. Once, when asked about his ideology, he said something like, “I try something, and if it doesn’t work, I try something else." Those who were really on the far left in his day mainly hated him. They understood what he was trying to do better than the right wing did.

As author Gore Vidal put it, “He saved capitalism. Whether it should have been saved or not is a different question. But he saved it, all right.”

I was reminded of this today by the ongoing, ferocious debate going on in Lansing over charter schools, which are independent, for-profit, public schools. A new package of bills would lift virtually all restrictions on charters, which are now limited to areas where public school performance is below average.

What bothers me is that so much of the ongoing debate over these schools is ideological or self-serving. And too few of the lawmakers debating these proposals are asking any version of FDR’s classic question, which in this case should be put this way:

What is the best way to make sure these children are being educated? Common sense means that we should all be in favor of any system that gets that job done, by any means necessary.

user cedarbenddrive / Flickr

The Michigan Senate approved eliminating a cap on the number of charter schools, but not before a heated debate broke out about bullying.

The state Senate eventually approved a measure that eliminated restrictions on the number of university-sponsored charter schools in the state by a narrow margin. It now moves to the state House.

State Senator Bert Johnson (D-Highland Park) says eliminating the cap might give students and parents more options, but not necessarily better options.

 "Good public schools should be nurtured. Bad ones, they should be shuttered. Good charter schools should be nurtured. Bad ones should be shuttered," said Johnson. "The legislation proposed today does everything to eliminate the limits on how many charter schools can open in the state of Michigan, but it does nothing to ensure that those are high-quality schools."

Prior to passage, discussion over eliminating the cap on university-sponsored charter schools turned into a heated debate over bullying.

Democratic state lawmakers tried to attach an amendment to the charter school proposal that would require charter schools to adopt anti-bullying policies that specify what qualifies as bullying.

Senator Glenn Anderson tried to tack an amendment onto the charter school bill that would require charter schools to adopt anti-bullying policies.

His bill required lists of reasons kids could not be picked on, including weight, gender, race and sexual orientation.

Republicans have traditionally railed against similar bullying lists, and Anderson says that’s not acceptable.

"The sad fact is that there are some people that believe that there are some kids that should be protected and not others," said Anderson.

State Senator Tory Rocca (R- Sterling Heights) argued a Republican proposal that does not specifically list which groups of kids should be protected from bullying is better. He said their bill does not make distinctions between who is protected and who is not.

"This is why, when I hear my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, with who I’ve repeatedly worked in good faith, make frankly hateful comments about people on this side of the aisle, saying ‘they want to see children bullied, they want to see children committing suicide,’ it is beneath contempt, frankly," said Rocca. 

In the end, Republicans voted against both bullying proposals, saying the issue should be dealt with at a later date.

A state Senate panel has approved a measure that would allow school districts to hire teachers through private companies. The proposal is part of a controversial education-overhaul package.

“It’s something they can do as a tool to contain costs, if that’s what they want, if they want to take a different approach to how they hire their instructional service, they have that opportunity. It’s not a mandate, it just makes it permissive,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Phil Pavlov.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The state Senate Education Committee will launch two days of hearings Tuesday focused on school choice and ways to encourage more charter academies. A Senate Republican education package would lift the statewide cap on the number of charter schools academies that can be sponsored by public universities. 

The Senate GOP package would also allow more online charter schools and make it easier for parents or teachers to ask a school district to convert a traditional school to a charter.  

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

In a move likely to shock many observers, Detroit Public Schools has named Doug Ross to head its charter school office.

Ross is the CEO of New Urban Learning, which manages what’s widely considered Detroit’s most-successful charter school system. He'll help Detroit Public Schools as it expands the number of charters it authorizes from nine to 14. He’ll also oversee the process for selecting operators to convert more of the district’s traditional schools in 2012.

Ross says it’s time for critics stuck in the charter-versus-traditional school debate to move past it:

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

The emergency manager for Detroit Public Schools has named 25 people to serve as board members for the district’s five new charter schools that will open this fall.

Ola Elsaid will serve on the board of directors for the EMAN Hamilton Academy.

"I really feel like the children in Detroit deserve better. I believe this transitioning to charter schools will provide better education, better guidelines. They deserve as much as students everywhere else deserve, and I really hope we can make a difference to the schools in Detroit."

user: jdurham / morguefile

Professors at the University of Michigan plan to launch a statewide study of Michigan’s charter schools.

One criticism of past charter studies is that the data is skewed because they compare apples to oranges; since charter school participation is voluntary, some worry the kids who sign up for charter schools have different characteristics than those who attend traditional schools.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

In the past two years, Detroit has closed 59 schools and cut 30 percent of the school system's workforce. But the district is still staring at a deficit of more than $300 million, and thousands of students continue to flee every year. In a story produced for NPR's All Things Considered, we take a closer look at a plan to help the troubled district out of its downward spiral.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

The Detroit Public Schools district is moving forward with its plan to turn dozens of its schools into charters. It’s part of current emergency manager Robert Bobb’s Renaissance 2012 plan. Just this week, 18 organizations put in bids to take over 50 DPS schools and convert them into charters.

At the top would be a charter leader who does everything from fundraising to student recruitment to academic planning. But a study out late last year by the Center on Reinventing Public Education shows charter leaders have a high turnover rate.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Charter school operators interested in turning around schools in Detroit attended a bidders’ conference to get more information about the application process.

As many as 45 Detroit schools could be taken over by charter operators over the next two years. Ahmed Saber is with Education Management Networks, which operates three charter schools in Detroit:

"There is a lot of uncertainty about the plan, and of course because of the speed that it came about, and trying to get it done soon. But maybe that’s what’s needed in a climate that’s bogged down in a climate with all the politics and all the red tape."

Detroit Public Schools hopes the charter plan will avoid having to shut dozens of schools, and help put the troubled school system in the black.

District officials say they’re looking for high-quality operators that have a proven track record – including 90 percent graduation rates and 75 percent proficiency on state math and reading tests.

Elizabeth Albert / wikipedia commons

Detroit Public Schools is offering up dozens of its struggling schools to be turned into charters. And officials say they only want “superstar” operators with a proven track record of academic excellence.

But those operators might prove difficult to attract. The schools being offered up have the lowest student achievement, declining enrollment, or are located in areas that are not expected to be targeted for redevelopment.

Sarah Hulett / Michigan RAdio

Thousands of kids in the Detroit Public Schools system could see their school close or become a charter school next fall.

Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb laid out his reorganization plan today. It calls for closing seven schools this summer and one next summer. Another 18 schools will close by the fall unless a charter school operator can be identified to run them. And 27 more schools will be offered for conversion to charter schools, but will remain open otherwise.

Bobb says national experts and the community will carefully vet the applications to find “superstar” charter operators:

"It doesn’t do us any good to have anyone come in and receive a charter if in fact they do not have a proven track record of student achievement."

Detroit Board of Education President Anthony Adams says the troubled school district can either continue to close schools, or rethink its approach completely:

"If it is our responsibility to provide the highest level of education for students within our community, then we have to embrace a different service model of what we do."

The list of 32 schools is fewer than half the troubled school district will have to close or convert to charters to erase a $327 million dollar deficit. Bobb says it will be his successor’s job to finish the job. His contract expires at the end of June.

The man in charge of the Detroit Public Schools’ finances has put forth a plan that would turn some of the district’s worst schools into charter schools.

Robert Bobb presented his “Renaissance Plan 2012” to the Detroit Board of Education over the weekend.

The plan calls for turning 41 of the district’s remaining 142 schools over to charter operators. District spokesman Steve Wasko says it would allow the district to move at least $75 million in expenses off its books.

“This is an alternative that would allow the Detroit Public Schools to shed all of the operating costs of the identified schools, to be borne by an outside management company or charter operator.”

Wasko says Bobb will identify those schools and open up the application process later this week.

Skeptics question whether the amount of money the plan saves would make up what the district would lose in state per-pupil funding. David Arsen, Professor of Educational Policy at Michigan State University, says it’s not quite clear how the plan would save so much money.

“If the 41 schools are converted to charters, DPS would avoid its current operations expenditures on those buildings. On the other hand, the district would also lose nearly all of the state funding it currently receives for educating the students in those schools.”

The State Department of Education would have to sign off too, because the proposal would change the deficit elimination plan the state ordered Bobb to implement.

Bobb says his proposal would still advance the deficit elimination plan, while avoiding what he calls “draconian” measures, such as shutting down half the district’s remaining schools.

Handcuffs
User the commedian / Flickr

A former Highland Park charter school treasurer named Shantell Bell has been charged with embezzlement, the Associated Press reports:

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette's office says in a release that 37-year-old Shantell Bell was arrested Friday and was expected to be arraigned in Highland Park District Court.

Authorities say a $25,000 check request was made in 2009 for textbooks at George Washington Carver Academy.

The money later was paid to an Ohio title company. Bell's ex-boyfriend reported it to
the school, which contacted Michigan State Police.

Bell no longer works at the school.

Defense attorney Karri Mitchell declined Friday to comment on the case.

Schuette made comments to the Detroit News following the arrest:

"The theft of resources from Michigan's children will not be tolerated" 

"We must root out corruption at all levels of government to ensure the public is served. Nobody will get a free pass when they break the law."

Bell's arraignment was expected to occur this afternoon, in the 30th District Court.

The Knowledge is Power Program, known as KIPP, is a national network of charter schools. There are over 80 KIPP Schools across the country, and Detroit leaders are in talks with KIPP to open charters in the city. Michigan Radios Jennifer Guerra and Mercedes Mejia visited a KIPP school in New Orleans and have this look at the experience.

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