‘Truth Squad’ Omits Key Michigan Charter School Facts In DeVos Hit Piece

Group of unnamed reporters deem Dem candidate’s off-base claims to be ‘mostly accurate’

A reporting project by the center-left Bridge Magazine under the label “Michigan Truth Squad” has offered its interpretation of a claim by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar about U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Thanedar has said that DeVos was personally profiting from Michigan charter schools.

“As for the implication that Betsy DeVos profits from Michigan for-profit charters, that’s a little more complicated,” the Truth Squad stated.

The authors continued, quoting Thanedar spokesman TJ Bucholz explaining how the DeVos family was profiting from charter schools:

“Bucholz said the DeVos family ‘owns and operates’ the West Michigan Aviation Academy, offering that as an indicator Betsy DeVos has personally made money off charter schools.”

“You can assume a for-profit school makes a profit, otherwise they wouldn’t be there,” Bucholz said. “We don’t know the financial details since the records of this school are ... private.”

“CS Partners is not publicly traded, so it’s not required to identify investors,” the Truth Squad wrote. “Therefore, it’s hard to determine whether the DeVoses actually profit from West Michigan Aviation Academy.”

The Truth Squad group nevertheless deemed Thanedar’s claim to be “mostly accurate.”

ForTheRecord says: The self-described Truth Squad neglected to mention two obstacles for any such attempt by DeVos or her family: state law and a contract. The law makes it illegal for the DeVos family to benefit financially from its involvement with the West Michigan Aviation Academy. This makes irrelevant the fact that the school’s management company is not required to file financial statements with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission because it is not a publicly traded firm.

The management contract between West Michigan Aviation Academy and the for-profit management company CS Partners is posted on the internet. It states, in part: “No Related Parties or Common Control. The parties hereby agree that none of the voting power of the governing body of the Academy will be vested in MEP Services or its directors, members, managers, officers, shareholders, or employees. Further, the Academy and MEP are not, and shall not become members of the same controlled group (per IRS definition) or related persons (per IRS definition.)”

Also the Michigan Department of Education explained how state law prevents conflict of interest in charter school boards.

45. Can the board and/or staff of a school be family members, or otherwise closely related to members of the board?

No. The December 2011 amendment to the Revised School Code requires the academy board to prohibit specified family relationships among board members, individuals who have an ownership interest in or who are officers or employees of an ESP involved in the operation of the academy and employees of the academy. The potential for or existence of conflicts of interest among board members are items that are carefully monitored by Michigan authorizers. As mentioned, MCCSA oversight and accountability standards recommend the use of a disclosure form be completed by charter school board members on an annual basis. These procedures are designed to ensure board member quality and autonomy and prevent inappropriate charter school board member/service provider relationships. [See MCL 380.503(6)(k)]

The DeVos family would be breaking the law and the contract with its for-profit service provider if it benefited financially from West Michigan Aviation Academy. That’s an important point the Bridge Magazine feature failed to mention. Bridge Magazine Editor David Zeman didn't respond to an email seeking comment.

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.