Editorial: Democrats put target on many top charters

The Detroit News
"Democrats are renewing their war on school choice in Michigan, this time targeting some of the top performing charters in the state. "

Democrats are renewing their war on school choice in Michigan, this time targeting some of the top performing charters in the state. 

What matters most to them is whether a school's teachers are members of a union, rather than how much its students achieve.

Thirty-four House Democrats, led by Rep. Kristy Pagan of Canton Township, are pushing a resolution that would amend the state constitution to ban charter schools from contracting with for-profit operators.

Democrats have used the "for-profit" bogeyman to push the canard that private companies skim huge amounts of taxpayer money off charter schools. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer adopted that narrative on the campaign trail, promising to ban for-profit operators.

But it's not true. Many charter schools are run by for-profit companies, most of which operate at a very modest margin.

Those schools are among the best in the state. 

An analysis by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy found 42 Michigan charter schools have hired for-profit management companies. 

Four of those charters were the only K-8 schools in the state with more than 70 percent of their students "proficient" in all subjects.  In Detroit, three of the eight schools that send the highest percentage of their students to college also have for-profit management. So does the top-ranked high school in the state, Central Academy in Ann Arbor.  

Ironically, two K-8 Michigan charters operated by for-profits and deemed Blue Ribbon Schools by the federal Department of Education are within Pagan's Canton Township district.

To pass, the resolution would need a two-thirds vote of the Legislature -- unlikely, given that Republicans control both chambers -- and then be approved by voters.

It's not going to happen. But the resolution does show the Democrat's hand in terms of school choice. They want to kill it, or at least severely restrict charter schools, despite hard evidence that those schools are working. 

That seems a misplaced priority in a state whose students rank across-the-board among the poorest performing in the nation.

Lawmakers should worry far less about who runs schools, and whether they're unionized, and much more about whether the schools are delivering a quality education.

Too many schools in Michigan aren't. The focus should be on shutting down the schools that are failing and boosting the schools that are succeeding, regardless of their governance structure.

The charters run by for-profit companies are still operating at a lower per-pupil cost than most traditional public schools, so there's no legitimate concern that taxpayers are getting cheated.