Woodland Park Academy

Woodland Park Academy, a public charter school located in Grand Blanc.

A recent report recommending more charter school oversight has prompted several prominent pro-school choice groups to refute its conclusion that Michigan’s public charter schools require more government oversight.

“Improving Oversight of Michigan Charter Schools and Their Authorizers” was issued last week by the Levin Center at Wayne State University Law School, which had commissioned the study from the Citizens Research Council of Michigan (CRC).

The study concludes there is inadequate oversight of public charter schools and their authorizers in Michigan. By authorizers, CRC refers to those institutions given the authority to sponsor and oversee public charter schools, which in most cases includes universities and community colleges.

“Accountability is fundamental to good government, and oversight is fundamental to accountability,” former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, founder and chair of the Levin Center, said in a statement. “Both supporters and opponents of charter schools will agree that taxpayers need to know their money is being wisely spent. Based on today’s report by the Citizens Research Council, we can’t say whether or not that is true for charter schools because of the lack of oversight.”

The report recommends ways the state of Michigan can provide what it says is needed accountability for charter school authorizers "through better reporting and clear standards for these entities."

According to the CRC report, under-performing public charter schools can be closed by the state and authorizers may be suspended. However, it says, there are no standardized rules governing what criteria is required for closures and suspensions, as well as no state requirements for charter schools to publicly divulge how they are monitored.

The CRC recommends legislation it says will make monitoring of public charter schools more accountable, including establishing authorizer requirements, responsibilities and expectations as well as increased oversight; enacting standardized rules for public charter school authorization; increasing the Department of Education budget for the purpose of monitoring public charter schools; and requiring charter schools to provide independently prepared financial statements.

Public charter school advocates have taken issue with the report’s conclusions.

Robert Kimball, associate vice president for Charter Schools at Grand Valley State University and chair of the board for the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers, issued a statement in which he asserted many of the CRC recommendations were already in place.

“University authorizers of public charter schools in Michigan are fully accountable to the boards of their institutions, the Department of Education, the law, and the tens of thousands of parents who have entrusted their children’s education to a public charter school,” Kimball said. “In that sentence are more facts than are in the 50-plus pages of the Levin Center’s commentary on charter school oversight.”

Kimball continued: “Michigan charter schools are succeeding for the families who choose them. The highest-rated open enrollment high schools in Detroit are public charter schools, and Michigan is a national leader in quality public charter school authorizing, in large part because our state’s universities have been committed to oversight, accountability, and student achievement for more than 25 years.”

Great Lakes Education Project (GLEP) Chairman Jim Barrett concurred with Kimball. In a statement, Barrett noted: “Michigan’s public charter schools are the most accountable in the state. ... The Levin Center report admits authorizers meet accountability standards, but still attacks the autonomy of the Michigan universities that authorize them.”

According to GLEP, the CRC recommendations go far beyond what is required for traditional public school accountability. For example, the group said, public charter school board members with financial conflicts of interest are banned; the schools already are required to publish financial reports; and poor performance results in school closures. None of these criteria, according to GLEP, are applied to traditional public schools.

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.