A news service for the people of Michigan from the Mackinac Center for Public Policy

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Superintendents Falsely Claim Charter Schools Shortchange Poor Children

State data shows charters serving higher percentage of low-income students than traditional public schools

Seventy-one Michigan public school superintendents signed a letter that ran on a state-wide news site that claimed that charter schools were serving middle class students while “creating a permanent underclass in our inner cities.”

But state of Michigan data for the 2011-2012 school year shows there is a higher percentage of free- and reduced-lunch eligible students in charter schools than in conventional public school districts. Charter schools had 69.8 percent of students on free- and reduced-lunch statewide while 46.2 percent of the students statewide in conventional public schools were on free- and reduced-lunch. That data is from the Center for Educational Performance and Information. Students qualify for free- and reduced-lunch based on their household income.

The letter was part of an attack superintendents have waged statewide on a series of educational reform bills. The letter refers to House Bills 6004 and 5923 and Senate Bill 1358 and a school funding proposal known as the Michigan Public Education Finance Project.

The 71 superintendents who signed an op-ed that ran in MLive stated: "Instead, the choices we have created through market-based reform have produced cookie-cutter public school academies serving middle class students while creating a permanent underclass in our inner cities."

Michael Van Beek, education director for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the superintendents were factually incorrect.

"I think they were trying to paint a picture of charter schools that is misleading," Van Beek said. "It's just plain false what they said."

In general, many charter schools are serving students in inner cities, Van Beek said. When you add up the enrollment of students in charters in Flint and Detroit, it makes up about half of the 120,000 students enrolled in charter schools in the state, Van Beek said.

Superintendents Ron Veldman of Coopersville in Ottawa County, Dan Behm of Forest Hills in Kent County, Rich Satterlee of Alba in Antrim County, Ron Caniff of Grandville in Kent County, and William Mayes, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Administrators, didn’t respond to requests for comment. 

Superintendent David Britten of Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in Kent County said before he commented, he wanted to see the stats of the "inner cities." He said, "Our letter did not mention statewide."

In the combined districts of those 71 superintendents, 48 percent of the students were on free- or reduced-lunch in the conventional public schools, while 54.2 percent of the students at the charters operating within these 71 superintendents' districts were on free- or reduced-lunch.

Detroit Public Schools has about 81 percent of students qualifying for free- and reduced-lunch. The charter schools in Wayne County have about 78 percent free- and reduced-lunch students.

Britten didn't respond to a follow-up question asking if the intent of the letter was to imply that public school academies didn't take in their fair share of poor students.

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See also:

New Report Card Compares High School Test Scores and Adjusts For Economic Status

Public School Officials Use Nonprofit For Political Action

Districts Use Taxpayer Resources To Oppose Education Bills

Debate On Education Bills Focuses On Choice

Public Schools: 'Profit' Bad For Others, Good For Us

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