News Story

State ed board cites transparency in call for new charter school regulations

‘It seems to be an overreaction’

The Michigan State Board of Education voted April 10 on a resolution that called for legislation giving the state education department, in consultation with local districts, the ability to deny applications for new charter schools. The resolution called for “full and complete transparency in all financial matters related to revenue and expenditures for charter management companies.”

The vote came months after the Michigan Department of Education sent Freedom of Information Act requests to “a cross-section of charter schools and education management organizations,” according to an April 10 press release from the department. It “found that 12 of 166 charter schools that were sent the requests didn’t respond, while all 122 traditional public school districts responded.” While the department received a response from most charter school requests, it found some to be unsatisfactory. The responses “consisted primarily of purchased service and not did not permit the same level of analysis and understanding as the financial data for traditional public school districts,” the press release continued. “Five of the 12 charter school districts noted as not responding in the State Board of Education presentation were managed by a for-profit education management organization,” Bob Wheaton, a spokesman for the department, told CapCon in an email.

Charter schools follow the same transparency laws as traditional public schools, a representative for charter schools said. Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, took issue with the resolution and statements made by board members before the April 9 vote.

“As the board members well know, charter schools are fully public schools with public school boards,” says Dan Quisenberry in a public statement provided to CapCon.

An expert in the state’s open record law concurs. “The State Board of Education appears to misunderstand the current state of the law,” Steve Delie, an attorney at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told Capcon. Charter schools, he said, are subject to FOIA, as are conventional school districts. But giving the Michigan Department of Education veto power over charter school applications — which currently resides with charter school authorizers — isn’t the best response for the department. “Given that both state and local governments have a poor track record with FOIA, it seems to be an overreaction to establish new rules that would essentially eliminate charter schools over a 7% non-compliance rate.”

Charter schools that fail to uphold their obligations under FOIA should be treated in the same way as public schools that don’t obey the law, Delie said. The Mackinac Center, he added, has filed suit against various school districts that do not comply with FOIA law. Pursuing lawsuits, he said, is a better solution than restricting charter schools. “With more and more parents choosing educational options outside of the public school district system, the state should be encouraging more options and improving existing ones, not forcing students into a one-size-fits-all solution.”

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.