News Story

'Reckless Expansion' of Charter Schools? Not Quite

Just four more Michigan charters in three years

Charter School Building

The current school year marks only the second time that there has been no increase in the number of charter schools in Michigan since the state enacted its law governing charter schools 22 years ago.

The Legislature removed an artificial cap on the number of charters in 2011. A brief surge in charter schools followed, with 298 operating by the 2013-14 school year. But since then, there has only been a net gain of four charter schools, bringing the total to the current figure of 302.

The growth process has been more dynamic than the raw numbers suggest, however, because 44 charter schools have closed their doors since the cap was lifted. Public school academies must receive authorization — a charter — from a state university or one of several other public institutions mentioned in the law. If a school fails to perform as promised, authorizers do not hesitate to rescind its charter.

There were 302 charter schools in 2014-15 and the current 2015-16 school year. The only other time there wasn't an increase in charters in Michigan was 2001-02 and 2002-03 when there were 189 charters.

“When the cap lift was being debated in 2011, charter school opponents tried to scare people by saying it would lead to an unregulated explosion of charters,” said Dan Quisenberry, the president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. (The association is the trade group of charter schools in the state.)

“As we’ve seen, the exact opposite has happened,” he continued. “The growth in charter schools has been very measured. This past year, for example, we didn’t see a single new school open in Detroit. The authorizers have always done a great job of making sure only the most promising new schools will be allowed to open. That’s how it was before the cap was lifted, and that’s how it is now.”

Back in 2011, politicians who opposed the idea of allowing more charter schools argued that removing the cap would put students at risk, and newspaper editorials warned about the problems of “reckless expansion” of charters.

One legislative opponent, then-state Rep. Kate Segal (D-Battle Creek), called the charter expansion bill "a complete assault on our public school system in Michigan."

"Senate Bill 618 unfortunately benefits for-profit charter schools at the expense of our public schools and their students," Sagal said in a national story run on The Huffington Post five years ago. "Removing the cap will allow an unlimited number of for-profit schools to open in whatever community they choose and put students at risk."

Just one of the 47 Democrats in the House at the time voted to lift the cap, while five Republicans voted “no” (Mike Callton, Ed McBroom, Paul Muxlow, Phil Potvin and Sharon Tyler). Every Senate Democratic voted “no,” joined by four Republicans (Tom Casperson, Bruce Caswell, Rick Jones and Tori Rocca).

Paul Kanan, the press secretary for the Michigan Democratic Party, didn’t return an email seeking comment.