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 Article of Interest - Michigan's Charter Schools

Charters: Legislature should close Bay Mills loophole; end school fight
Lansing State Journal, April 21, 2003
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The release of Michigan's list of "failing" schools drew little attention to one fact: There were charter schools on the list, too.

In fact, 18 of the 190 existing charter schools ended up on the failing schools list. Now, in charters' defense, that proportion is roughly similar to that of regular public schools.

But if charters confront the same performance challenges as regular schools, why should we be rushing to add more of them ... especially without proper oversight?

That's the crux of an ongoing fight between state Superintendent Thomas Watkins and Bay Mills Community College.

Bay Mills, which mainly serves American Indian students, is trying to utilize a loophole in existing Michigan law to sponsor as many charter schools as it likes. There's nothing to think Bay Mills is particularly equipped to become a charter school impresario, other than legal advantage.

So when Bay Mills didn't provide enough documentation on overseeing seven new charters, Watkins refused to issue them an administrative code it needs to draw down state aid for students.

Of course, no state aid means no school.

Bay Mills and allies in the charter movement accuse Watkins of exceeding his authority with his denial. That claim, though, would leave the superintendent as little more than a flunky, rubber-stamping whatever Bay Mills puts in front of him.

That won't do ... and a solution needs to come from the folks at the Capitol.

Republican lawmakers have pushed through the House a new charter-school bill, one that raises the cap on university-sponsored charters. Democrats, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm, are rightfully opposed.

Pending more information on charters' effectiveness, the last thing Michigan should do is add dozens more.

But one goal of the bill in question is worthwhile - closing the Bay Mills loophole. House Bill 4148 would treat Bay Mills like the universities that sponsor charters. That's a start.

A better bill, though, would be one curtailing where Bay Mills could issue charters (along lines imposed on other community colleges) and limiting its charters to a number it can adequately oversee.

Legislators should move promptly on such reform, which would resolve the dispute between Watkins and Bay Mills ... and produce a better charter school law, to boot.

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