Michigan: 36 Charter Schools Failing

About eight months ago, the Michigan Department of Education revealed that at least 36 charter schools are failing in the state of Michigan. Many other charter schools are considered close to “low-performing.” This is not a small number of charter schools. It is not unreasonable to assume that several dozen more charter schools are in troubled waters (see here, here, and here).

The vast majority of charter schools in Michigan are openly for-profit charter schools. A chaotic “Wild West” pro-competition ethos prevails in the state because of the proliferation of such deregulated schools governed by unelected private persons. Parents and students are expected to fend-for-themselves like shoppers and consumers. Nothing is guaranteed in such a set up. A February 2023 news article reports that:

Once again, Michigan has the dubious distinction of being the state with the highest percentage of charter schools run by for-profit corporations in the nation. Eighty-one percent of Michigan’s nearly 300 charter schools contract with private management companies, often referred to as Charter Management Organizations (CMO).

These private companies routinely engage in a range of shady real estate transactions and self-dealing to maximize profit at the expense of kids. To be sure, nepotism, patronage, corruption, and fraud are more intense in the charter school sector than other sectors in society. Charter schools are also notorious for having weak accountability and transparency. Secrecy is a priority.

Charter schools have long over-promised and under-delivered. They are not the silver bullet promoters repeatedly claim they are. They are plagued by many serious problems. They not only fail and close regularly, they also hire fewer experienced teachers than public schools and have fewer nurses than public schools. Many do not offer meals, transportation, sports programs, or libraries. In addition, charter schools choose parents and students, not the other way around.

It is difficult for charter school supporters to defend the position that charter schools are better than public schools, especially since charter schools have now been around for more than three decades in the U.S. Everyone can see that charter schools have a long trail of failures. Even the staunchest charter school advocates do not deny this. On the contrary, with no sense of irony they define regular failure and upheaval as “success,” the so-called “free market” at work. This is a capital-centered view of life, relations, and the world.

It is also indefensible for charter schools promoters to say, “well, at least some charter schools are doing well, isn’t that good?” Such a poor track record in Michigan and beyond does not justify siphoning billions of dollars a year from constantly-demonized public schools. There remains a big chasm between charter school hype and charter school realities.

In the final analysis, public schools methodically set up to fail by neoliberals who then turn around and set up failed charter schools, and then also divide people while charter school operators cash in on kids in the name of “choice,” “saving the kids,” or “parent empowerment” is unacceptable and untenable. It is not a human-centered orientation and agenda.

Speak up. Defend the right to education. Oppose public funds for charter schools. Say no to education based on the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market.” Reject the commodification of education.

According to Chalkbeat (2023):

There are about 370 charter schools in Michigan enrolling roughly 150,000 K-12 students, or 10% of the total. Some of those schools are organized into groups called charter districts. Most charter school students live in urban areas, notably Detroit, where nearly 50% of all public school students attend charter schools. Nearly two-thirds of charter school students are enrolled in southeast Michigan.

In addition, “In exchange for oversight, [charter school] authorizers can take up to a 3% cut of a charter’s state funding.”

Shawgi Tell is author of the book Charter School Report Card. He can be reached at stell5@naz.edu.. Read other articles by Shawgi.