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18 new charters opening this fall are already controversial

The former Carstens Elementary School building, on Detroit's east side, is one of many, many schools that have been shuttered in Detroit.
Sarah Hulett
Michigan Radio
Detroit Public Schools is offering 45 schools to charter companies.

Eighteen new charter schools are opening up in Michigan this year.

And while some of them haven’t even had their first day of school, they’re already in the midst of their first controversy.

The state superintendent’s “naughty list”

In Michigan, charter schools have to be "authorized" – usually it's a public university that does that.

But last week the state superintendent put out his version of the “naughty list:” 11 authorizers that could lose their authorizing powers, because of transparency and oversight issues.

And most of this year's new charter schools got their approval from – you guessed it – the authorizers on the list. 

Critics question authorizers' motivations

Now, some charter supporters say this list is a bogus political move, an election year shenanigan coming on the heels of Detroit Free Press reports that depicted the state’s charter system as riddled with nepotism and weak oversight.

A spokesman for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies says the state's list of troubled authorizers is unfair and used flawed data. 

Gary Miron is an education policy professor at Western Michigan University.  

He says authorizers can rake in 3% of a school's revenue.

So they've got plenty of incentive to open new charter schools and turn a blind eye to bad ones.

"Many of these authorizers now grant charters to these large corporate schools sometimes run from out of state, and garner considerable revenues,” he says.

Miron says he hopes the state superintendent’s list leads to a serious overhaul.

"Charter schools are a good idea. But let's take a break, so we can figure out how to do it right, how to get the accountability right, and then start it up again."

Michigan now has more than 300 charter schools.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health and the COVID-19 pandemic.
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