WSW: Charter Schools' Financing and Accountability

Jul 7, 2014

Canton Charter Academy
Credit Dwight Burdette, Wikicommons


Western Michigan University Professor Gary Miron says small, independent, locally run charter schools are hard to find in Michigan. 

Miron, a professor of Education Leadership, Research and Techonology at Western, has studied and written about charter schools for years. He is also quoted in a recent Detroit Free Press series on the lack of accountability in charter schools in Michigan. Miron says the overwhelming majority of charter schools in the state are run by for-profit corporations. 

Comparing Michigan to other states, Miron says Michigan is far ahead of other states in the number of charter schools run by for-profit companies, even if others are "racing to catch up." 

The Free Press series finds that the boards governing charter schools are often powerless to address problems with finances and accountability. Miron says the boards are supposed to be responsible for protecting the public's interest. But he says the boards are often picked by the management companies that run charter schools. Miron says an open, transparent board is important for a charter school to be well run and fiscally responsible. 

Miron says often there is a close relationship between the for-profit corporations running the charter schools, and the authorizing body. The charter schools are often authorized by state universities. Western Michigan University has not authorized charter schools in the state. 

The Free Press series found some success stories among charter schools. Miron says stability of leadership and teachers have been found to be one key in successful charter schools. He says other states' charter systems grew slower than Michigan did. Miron says that allowed them to create better systems for holding the schools accountable. He says his evaluations found that states that emphasized quality over quantity produced better results. Miron says those states were also more likely to close charter schools that weren't producing quality results. 

"That's what they do, they were invited in to the education system to bring an entrepreneurial spirit."

Miron says for-profit companies exist to make money. He says it shouldn't be surprising that they are maximizing profit. "That's what they do, they were invited in to the education system to bring an entrepreneurial spirit." Miron says legislation needs to create the right incentives for-profit companies tor run schools that serve a broad population of students and operate transparently. 

The President of the Michigan Freedom Fund found fault with the Detroit Free Press series on Charter Schools. Greg McNeilly writes in an essay for Bridge that the Free Press series includes fact errors and does not take into account reforms approved by state lawmakers two years ago.