Column: Dems unfairly target charters schools

Greg McNeilly

Do you love your kid’s school? Believe in parental choice? I hope you are ready to fight for it.

Earlier this month, an elected Democrat legislative leader bragged to The Detroit News about Democrats’ intention to declare war on charter public schools.

Shri Thanedar, the frontrunner for the Democrats gubernatorial nomination, is boldly campaigning on a plan to ban — that is, to shutter — most Michigan charter public schools. Gretchen Whitmer, his weakened competition, is doing the same.

The message is clear, and the goal simple — Michigan Democrats plan to shutter charter public schools, and to force the children being educated in them back into the failing public schools they already escaped.

If Democrats win, half of Detroit’s families with school age children will have the door closed in their face and their children shoved into failing and unsafe Detroit Public Schools. When in charge, Michigan Democrats show Detroit who is really in control.

Never mind the fact that charter public schools dramatically outperform their traditional public school rivals, and at significantly less expense. Charter school students in Detroit, for instance, scored twice as high as Detroit public school students on the 2017 M-STEP test. Detroit charter schools have an 89.9 percent graduation rate — exceeding even the 79.7 percent statewide average.

Just last week, U.S. News and World Report issued its Best High Schools in America rankings, and in Michigan, for the second straight year, a charter school was rated the state’s top school without exclusive admission requirements. Similarly, the only open-enrollment school in Detroit to make the list was a charter school.

In metro-Detroit the numbers are similarly staggering. According to data from the Michigan Department of Education, Plymouth–Canton public schools, for instance, are ranked 106th statewide. The South Canton Scholars charter school ranks 19th, the Canton Charter third, and Achieve Charter in Canton ranked No. 1 in the state.

The kicker? Michigan charters receive significantly less funding. They do it all for about 20 percent less than traditional government public schools.

This success is what Whitmer, Thanedar and Michigan Democrats simply can’t tolerate. Their efforts are bigoted, callous and heartless — sacrificing the future of better than 150,000 Michigan children, the rights and liberties of their parents, and the well-being and livelihood of thousands of teachers and educators in more than 350 schools, simply to enrich campaign donors and payback ideological overlords.

Additionally, their approach just doesn’t make any sense. It’s not data-driven or evidence based. It’s naked quid pro quo politics.

Their argument goes something like this; charter public schools are bad because many are run by “for profit” management companies.

The obvious truth is that traditional public schools in Michigan also “funnel” tax dollars to “for profit” companies every day, and in much bigger numbers. They buy text books from companies that make a profit. They hire companies to bus children to school every morning and to transport them safely home again each afternoon. They contract with businesses that provide food service and janitorial services. And they fund six-figure compensation packages for big union bosses.

According to the National Public Education Financial Survey, during the 2016-2017 school year, traditional public schools in Michigan spent more than $1.6 billion on what the Department of Education calls “purchased services,” or products or services rendered by companies and individuals who aren’t on the school system’s payroll.

To put it into perspective, traditional public schools “funneled” roughly $300 million more to companies that make a profit in ’16-’17 than every charter public school in Michigan, combined, spent in total. On everything. Period.

Their attacks would be humorous, if they weren’t so serious and the stakes so high.

Michigan Democrats only need to flip nine seats to gain control of the state House. Polls show both Whitmer and Thanedar running neck and neck with pro-school-choice Republicans.

If charter school parents, teachers, and advocates don’t get serious about saving schools in 2018, they may very well not have safe, high-quality schools left in many communities — urban, suburban and rural.

Greg McNeilly is chairman of the Michigan Freedom Fund.