Overspending sinks some public schools; 77 charter schools have been closed
In 2004, Walter French Academy charter school in Lansing closed after accumulating a $656,000 deficit and not meeting the terms of a $135,443 federal grant it was ordered to pay back.
In 2013, Buena Vista Public Schools was dissolved after accumulating a $3.6 million deficit and not meeting the terms of a $580,000 state grant it was ordered to pay back.
Although Buena Vista accumulated a deficit that was almost $3 million more than the charter public school and was ordered to repay a grant that was more than four times as high, Democratic politicians and union officials reacted far more negatively to the Walter French Academy issues.
Nine years ago, Democrat Virg Bernero, then a state senator who later would be the Michigan Education Association's choice for governor in 2010, didn't want any more charter public schools added in the state because of Walter French's demise.
He was quoted in the Lansing State Journal as saying there should have been, "stricter accountability" with charter schools when they were launched in 1993.
"We have to take better care of public dollars," Bernero said in 2004.
However, accountability and concern for public tax dollars weren't major themes with Democratic politicians and the state's largest teachers' union after Buena Vista and then Inkster Public Schools were dissolved last month.
Instead, many advocates for traditional public schools have said more money would have prevented the situations in Buena Vista in Saginaw County and Inkster in Wayne County.
Kathy Hayes, executive director of the Michigan Association of School Boards, questioned whether Buena Vista's issues were the result of a "steady disinvestment in education."
The MEA blamed part of Buena Vista's problems on Gov. Rick Snyder, who cut school funding by about $235 million between 2010 and 2012. School spending is expected to increase to $13.37 billion for the 2013-2014 school year, which is more than the $12.98 billion spent in 2010-2011.
Rep. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, said Inkster's dissolution was part of a larger "epidemic" in Michigan schools regarding funding.
There were 49 districts in 2011-12 in deficit. That number climbed to 55 in 2012-13, according to the Michigan Department of Education. Of those 55 districts, 10 school districts are projected to come out of deficit in 2012-13, but that won't be confirmed until audits are completed in November, according to MDE Spokeswoman Jan Ellis.
Public school advocates talk of a crisis among traditional public schools and point to the closing of Inkster and Buena Vista. However, there have been 77 charter schools that have closed since 1994, many for financial reasons, said Brad Wever, director of public policy for The Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools.
Leon Drolet, chairman of the Michigan Taxpayers Alliance, said it was healthy when failed districts are allowed to close.
"It's much better for children when they are released from a failed school than it is to prop up the failure forever," Drolet said. "If a charter schools is economically failing, the response of government officials is, 'We need more control and more regulation.' If a government school faces financial troubles, the government response is, 'We need more money.' It's definitely a double standard."
Mayor Bernero did not respond to a request for comment.