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Norbert Bufka

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Charter Schools in Michigan

In 1993 the Michigan legislature authorized the establishment of Public School Academies, commonly called Charter Schools. One Charter School was set up that year and the total mushroomed to 302 in 2016-2017. The number declined to 294 in 2017-2018. [a]

Public Authorizing bodies approve and oversee Charter Schools and are the only bodies which can end a Charter School. These bodies receive 3% of the tax dollars allocated for student instruction.  This 3% amounted to$ 33 million in 2016-2017.

Charter Schools can contract with outside agencies to operate the school. In 2017 80% of these operating agencies are for profit.  No law regulates the contract between the Charter School board and the operating agency.

Charter Schools must comply with all the standards of traditional public schools and suudents are assessed by the state. Teachers are not covered under the local bargaining agreement and awre not required to join a nunion. They are not part of the state teachers retirement system.

There are two additional requirements stated in law for a Charter School. Teachers must be “highly qualified” as defined in the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and there must be  students in the lowest 5% achievement in the area of the Charter School.  [b]

Evaluation and recommendations

In many cases Charter Schools are peforming worse than their local school from which they get their students.  David Zeman at the Education Trust-Midwest  [c] reported that  in 2016 half of the operators of Charter Schools in Detroit were allowed to continue and even open new schools, even though their performance on state tests was at or below that of the Detroit Public Schools. 

In 2013, Zeman reported, that among the worst is Leona Group, L.L.C., a for-profit operator based in Arizona, which operated 26 schools in Michigan in 2013. Students performed worse at its Cesar Chavez Academy in Southwest Detroit, on reading in the MEAP 2012 than Detroit Public Schools.he gave many other examples, yet all of these operators were allowed to open new Charter Schools.

The Education Trust Midwest reported that  in 2013 about one quarter of the Charter Schools authorized by Northern Michigan University (NMU), Eastern Michigan University (EMU) and Saginaw Valley State University (SVSU) – “ranked among the worst performing 10 percent of schools statewide.”  These schools enrolled about 19,000 students. [d]

With these poor performance records, we recommend the following:

  1. Authorizing bodies must be held accountable for the schools they sponsor by terminating their authorizing authority.

  2. Operating bodies must be held accountable for their performance by putting them on probation for poor performance, then if that continues terminating their Charter.

  3. Operating agencies must be non-profit.



[a] “Five new charter schools Opening in Michigan”,September 2017.


“charter schools”, Michigan Department of Education,,4615,7-140-6530_30334_40088---,00.html.

[c] David Zeman, “Failing charter operators keep expanding in Michigan”, Education Trust-Midwest, May 23, 2013.

[d] “Accountability for all the Broken Promise of Michigan charter Sector”,  The Education Trust Midwest , 2016,

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