News Story

Madonna Helps Charter School Detroit Tried To Block

She’s in for $100,000 as effort underway to renovate abandoned Detroit school

The pop star Madonna recently made a $100,000 matching-grant challenge for Detroit Prep charter school, which is authorized through Grand Valley State University.

Detroit Prep has shown encouraging test results in a city whose conventional school district has been tarnished as among the worst in the country. For example, the 25 kindergarten students at Detroit Prep ranked in the top 1 percent of an assessment test used by 23,000 U.S. schools. For first grade math, 80 percent of students are progressing at or above a grade-level rate, and 73 percent are doing that in reading. The numbers come from testing done by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).

Detroit Prep opened in 2014, so it has not yet appeared on one of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s school report cards, which adjust test scores to reflect students’ rate of progress regardless of their socioeconomic status.

The school has been operating out of a church basement, which stifled growth and forced the school to turn away many prospective students. But its search for a new building was almost shut down by the Detroit Public Schools Community School District. When the school district sold a closed school building to a developer in 2014, its officials included a deed restriction that prevented the charter from purchasing the building. At one point, the Detroit district considered selling the property to a developer who wanted to build a prison.

At the time, the school district stated, “As a district, we defended the right of Detroit taxpayers and voters to determine the use of their community’s assets. We will continue to focus on rebuilding the district to improve performance while serving all children in the city.”

Eventually, the Legislature passed a bill that essentially invalidated the deed restrictions the city had obtained, allowing Detroit Prep to buy the building. The charter is now trying to raise money to renovate the abandoned school building.

The Detroit school district isn’t the only government entity that has tried to block charter schools.

In 2014, Detroit Mayor Michael Duggan signed off on a resolution adopted by the city council to not sell city-owned property to any charter school located within one mile of an existing conventional school district building.