Dave Cummings/States Newsroom
Democrats in both the House and Senate introduced sweeping bill packages earlier this month aimed at improving financial accountability and transparency for charter schools and management companies.
Both chambers of the state Legislature put forth identical 11-bill packages, the School Freedom, Accountability, Choice and Transparency (FACT) Act, that would require authorizing organizations that oversee charter schools and the education management organizations that run them to produce financial audits, strengthen requirements and prevent conflicts of interests.
The bills are House Bills 5846-5856 and Senate Bills 927-327. They’ll have an uphill battle in the GOP-led Legislature that has backed school choice measures.
Michigan has 295 active charter schools, and about 81% of these schools are run by for-profit education management organizations (EMOs). Despite being run by for-profit companies, Michigan’s charter schools received $1.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2021.
Pamela Pugh, vice president of the Michigan State Board of Education, said charter schools and their EMOs should be held to the same accountability standards as the state’s public schools including “financial, academic, and ethical transparency requirements.”
The goal of these bill packages isn’t to cut off funding to charter schools, but monitor where the money is going and how it’s being spent.
“Each year, taxpayers are providing more than a billion dollars to charter schools and EMOs that operate throughout Michigan. Much of this money is hidden from the public and we need to know where this funding is going,” said Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield).
In Michigan, charter schools have been susceptible to poor management, and 136 charter schools have had to shut their doors from financial distress or mismanagement, according to state House Democrats.
Many charter schools in Michigan are also overseen by the state’s partnership program, which was started under former Gov. Rick Snyder administration in 2017 formed the Michigan Partnership Model to improve the state’s lowest-performing public and charter schools and keep them from closing.
Last month, Republicans, along with Betsy DeVos, the former U.S. secretary of Education from West Michigan and longtime champion for charter schools, unveiled a ballot initiative to create a school voucher-style system that would use public tax dollars to fund private education. Whitmer already struck down legislation in February that would give tax credits to Michiganders who contributed to a scholarship program for non-public schools.
This isn’t the first time the state Legislature has seen many of the Democratic bills. In 2017, the original act was introduced, made up of 16 bills, but none of those bills made it to a first reading.
The FACT Act bills were referred to as the Education Committee in the House and the Committee on Education and Career Readiness in the Senate.
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.