News Story

No State Education Board Majority To Take $47 Million Federal For Charters

The schools get the money anyway

Although its vote was a gesture only and without any effect, the Michigan State Board of Education did not endorse a $47.2 million federal grant to charter schools, with some members saying similar funding had been used improperly in the past.

The motion to formally approve these funds, which are set to be distributed over five years, failed to pass in a 3-3 vote of board members, with two members not voting. But the federal government has already awarded the grant to the Michigan Department of Education, and the money will still be distributed.

The board is controlled 6-2 by Democrats. Both of the Republicans on the board voted in favor of formally approving the funds, as did one Democrat. But three Democrats voted no, one was absent, and one abstained.

Education Department spokeperson William DiSessa told The Center Square news outlet in an email that opponents were aware the vote was symbolic, and his department has consulted the state attorney general’s office on the issue.

“Reasons cited for the no votes included too many entities receiving grant money in the past but never opening a school and too many schools opening in relation to student enrollment,” DiSessa said.

Nearly half of Michigan charter schools that received federal grants in the past failed to stay open, according to Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization that follows education. It said that of 176 schools that received federal grants, 75 never opened. Another dozen opened but eventually closed.

The federal grant program is meant to offer technical assistance to charter schools, especially those in underserved locations, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

“Charter Schools are public schools and hold the same important role of educating Michigan’s students as traditional school districts,” Martin Ackley, director of the Office of Public and Governmental Affairs of the state Education Department, told The Center Square. “They are funded with state dollars the same way traditional schools are funded.”

Buddy Moorehouse, spokesman for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, confirmed that charters schools would receive the money.

The schools that will receive the grant in the first year are Frontier International Academy, Lincoln-King Academy, Orchard Academy and Star International Academy.