News Story

House Dems: Make Charter Schools Hiring For-Profit Managers Unconstitutional

Proposed change to state constitution could shut down some of the state’s top schools

A proposal in the Michigan House could force some top-performing public charter schools to close their doors because their boards have contracted with a for-profit education management company to operate the schools.

House Joint Resolution B, sponsored by Rep. Kristy Pagan of Canton and co-sponsored by 32 other House Democrats, would amend the state constitution to prohibit a public school from contracting with a for-profit entity to provide “comprehensive educational, administrative, management or instructional services or staff for the public school.” A school still could contract with a nonprofit entity that provides these services. Enactment of the measure would require a two-thirds vote of the state House and Senate and then approval by voters in the November 2020 general election.

A number of charter schools managed by for-profit entities have delivered impressive academic results, according to numbers provided by the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which is the trade association for charter schools, and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

According to the Mackinac Center, the boards of 42 Michigan charter school high schools on the Mackinac Center report card have contracted with a for-profit education management company. Of those schools, 14 received an A on the Mackinac Center’s high school report card, which factors in the socioeconomic background of the student body when evaluating a school. These charter high schools also accounted for eight of the 17 highest-scoring public high schools in the statewide report card.

Two K-8 charter schools operated by for-profit management companies were recognized by the U. S. Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon School program in 2018. The annual awards were given to fewer than 250 schools across the nation. Both of these award-winning schools – Achieve Charter Academy and Canton Charter Academy – are located in Canton, part of which is located in the House district Pagan represents.

Achieve Charter Academy and Canton Charter Academy, along with Plymouth Scholars Charter Academy and South Arbor Charter Academy, were the highest-performing schools on Michigan’s M-STEP student assessment. The four K-8 charters were the only schools in the state to have more than 70 percent of the students earn a “proficient” rating in all subjects. All four schools are managed by the for-profit National Heritage Academies.

Three of the eight top-ranked Detroit schools (based on students’ likelihood of enrolling in a two-year or four-year degree program after graduation) were also charters that have contracted with for-profit education management firms. The top Michigan high school as measured by the number of students who go on to college is also a for-profit charter school: Central Academy in Ann Arbor.

Additionally, four of the 10 Detroit high schools with the highest average SAT scores are managed by for-profit operators.

Pagan’s proposed constitutional amendment does not say what would happen to these schools if it were adopted.

Michigan Capitol Confident contacted Pagan’s office several times requesting comment about her proposal but was told that she was unavailable for an interview in time for the article.

Editor's note: This story was corrected to state that 42 Michigan charter high schools on the Mackinac Center report card have contracted with a for-profit education company.