July 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

Michigan school chief tightening charter oversight

Flanagan (michigan.gov)

Lansing — Michigan’s top education official said Monday that he will suspend the power of institutions that authorize the opening of charter schools if those groups don’t meet certain new standards.

According to a statement from Superintendent Mike Flanagan’s office, the Michigan Department of Education will establish measures of the “the transparency, academic, and financial practices of the charter schools of each authorizer.” The result of those measures will “determine which authorizers would lose their chartering capabilities,” the statement said.

Michigan spends about $1 billion a year on about 370 charter schools, which teach about 140,000 state children. Among the leading issuers of school charters are Central Michigan, Grand Valley State and Saginaw Valley State universities.

Monday’s announcement said that recently published news reports had prompted Flanagan to “think differently about whether to suspend an authorizer’s ability to open new charter schools.”

“It’s my authority in state law and I will be using it,” he said.

Charter school operators defend the quality of the service the schools provide.

“Charter school oversight and quality standards in Michigan are rigorous, and the state law expanding charter opportunities requires that increased academic achievement for all pupils must be the most important factor in charter renewal,” said Sherry Haueter, a member of the board of the Great Lakes Charter Academy.

Some charter schools are operated by nonprofit groups, while profit-making businesses operate 61 percent of them. The published reports concluded that much of the spending takes place with little public accountability or transparency.

The move drew support from an official at Grand Valley State University, the state’ second-largest authorizer of charter schools.

“I agree with Superintendent Flanagan’s decision to suspend authorizers not complying with quality standards and keeping schools open that should be closed for poor academic performance,” Tim Wood, special assistant for charter schools to president Thomas J. Haas, told the Grand Rapids Press.