News Story

Charter Schools ‘Unregulated?’ Only If You Ignore All Those Rules

New York nonprofit gets the anti-charter buzzwords right, misses the real story

A New York-based nonprofit that reports on education joined a growing number of anti-charter school voices when it stated that public school academies in Michigan are not regulated. The group’s publication, called The 74, recently published a nearly 2,500-word article that included unsubstantiated and unattributed claims about the alleged absence of regulation.

For example, The 74 wrote, “Within Michigan, and particularly Detroit, charter operators exist in the absence of regulations that are common elsewhere.”

The Michigan Association of Public School Academies says that claim is inaccurate.

Alicia Urbain, MAPSA’s vice president of government and legal affairs, recently wrote a blog post listing many of the regulations to which Michigan charters are subject:

  • Charter schools are closed if their academic performance places them among the bottom 5 percent of public schools for three years in a row as tracked by the state. No such consequence applies to failing conventional public schools in Michigan, and the state is unable to name a convention public school that has been closed for academic reasons.
  • Charter schools are subject to the same legal requirement as other public schools to serve special education children.
  • Michigan charter schools must participate in standardized state testing.
  • Michigan charter schools must hire state-certified teachers and administrators.
  • Michigan charter schools must evaluate their teachers and administrators each year.
  • Michigan charter schools must comply with the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act. Charter schools also have to provide the salaries of all of its teachers and administrators in a FOIA request.
  • Charter schools must post extensive financial information online.

“Charter schools in Michigan have to follow every law and regulation that applies to any other traditional public school with the exception of a few,” Urbain wrote in her post.

She indicated that those few exceptions include:

  • Charter schools have tougher conflict of interest laws than conventional schools. At a conventional school, school board members must recuse themselves from a vote on a contract in which they have a conflict of interest. Charter school board members are prohibited from being on a board that would have such a conflict.
  • Charter teachers are not subject to a teacher tenure system.
  • Charters must accept any student who wants to attend, limited only by building occupancy limits and enrollment caps in their charter agreement. If more students want to attend than a school can serve, it must hold an enrollment lottery.
  • Charters can’t levy property tax millages, including ones to pay for land and buildings or special education services. They cannot have a "sinking fund" levy to augment state aid.
  • Michigan’s charters can contract out for all services. Conventional Michigan schools contract out for many services, but not for instructional services.

That last item allows Michigan charter schools to be organized in a way that makes them not subject to mandatory unionization.

“It’s flat-out wrong to claim that charter schools are unregulated,” said Buddy Moorehouse, spokesman for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. “The fact is, charter schools are the most heavily regulated of all public schools in Michigan. In addition to having to follow all the same regulations that traditional public schools have to follow, charters have an additional set of regulations they have to operate under.”

This refers to the detailed contracts, or charters, between public school academies and the institutions that “charter” them, which in Michigan, are mostly state universities. Among many other items, a charter prescribes academic and other performance benchmarks a school must meet to retain its charter.

The 74 responded to an email sent by Michigan Capitol Confidential asking about many of the issues with its story, but the response did not address the article’s claim about an alleged lack of charter school regulation in Michigan.

In a third installment of this analysis, Michigan Capitol Confidential will address the claim made in The 74’s 2,500 word article about Michigan’s system of public school funding.