News Story

International Japanese School Gets a Second Chance

After being shut down in Livonia, it plans a move to Farmington Hills

After losing its lease and charter school authorization from a conventional public school district looking to expand its own enrollment, a public charter school in southeast Michigan has secured a new authorizer and building.

Saginaw Valley State University has entered into a three-year agreement with Hinoki International School, a Japanese-English immersion school for students in grades K-5. Previously operating under a charter and lease from the Livonia school district, Hinoki will now share a building with a private preschool in Farmington Hills, eight miles from its former location.

In a statement, Anne Hooghart, the charter school board's president, said, “We at Hinoki are thrilled about our new partnership with Saginaw Valley State University.” Hinoki will be one of 20 charter schools authorized by the university.

Hinoki had been rapidly expanding until May of last year, when its previous landlord and charter authorizer, Livonia Public Schools, terminated the school’s lease and announced it was starting a competing magnet program. Within weeks, Livonia created a carbon-copy Japanese program, hiring some of Hinoki’s teachers and soliciting its students to enroll.

Unable to find a replacement building on such short notice, Hinoki was forced to suspend operations for the 2014-2015 school year. Students seeking a similar curriculum had little choice but to enroll in Livonia’s new magnet school.

Little is known about what prompted the sudden move by the district. Livonia has been suffering from declining enrollment and the financial pressures associated with that. Since state aid follows students, an infusion of new students can help a district's bottom line. Livonia receives a foundation allowance of $8,049 per student, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Moreover, at least one school board member endorsed by the teachers union appears ready to take further action to protect the district's financial interests. This member has stated he is reluctant to privatize non-educational services or sell unused school buildings.

Meanwhile, competition for students (and the money that follows them) is heating up. Hinoki announced plans to hold an open house on Feb. 24, and Livonia scheduled an open house for the following day.

Randy Liepa, Livonia superintendent, declined to say how many students the district would need to maintain the magnet program, but he did comment on Hinoki’s announcement.

“We wish them the best with their school and look forward to continuing our current program which is providing an excellent option for Japanese immersion education,” he said.


Here is a CapCon video on the issue from July of 2014:

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.