House Democrats Announce Legislation Calling for Charter School Moratorium

Transparency, ethics, academic standards needed before allowing new charters
Thursday, September 18, 2014

LANSING - At a press conference at the state Capitol today, state Representatives Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores) and Ellen Cogen Lipton (D-Huntington Woods), announced legislation to enact a moratorium on opening any more charter schools until legislation is passed to ensure that they are transparent, accountable and have strong governance standards. Reps. Roberts and Cogen Lipton were joined by Dr. Casandra Ulbrich, vice president of the State Board of Education.

Rep. Roberts’ legislation would prevent the creation of new charter schools until legislation addressing the following is enacted:

  • Require complete transparency, including financial disclosure by authorizing bodies, charter schools and educational management organizations and their subcontractors.
  • Levy penalties for failing to comply with transparency and financial disclosure requirements.
  • Create comprehensive ethics and conflict of interest standards for charter schools, education management organizations, members of charter school boards of directors and authorizing bodies.
  • Require a more rigorous charter school authorizing process and strict oversight of existing charter schools to assure high-quality educational standards and outcomes for students.

“In the past 21 years, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) and the Legislature have failed to properly oversee charter schools. Now, the MDE and the State Board of Education have called on the Legislature to do this work, so I am introducing a moratorium on all new charters until we fix the problems that exist in the way many charter schools operate,” said Roberts. “We have to ensure that charter schools are transparent and accountable to the taxpayers whose money they are spending, and that the primary focus is on delivering a quality education to their students.”

A Detroit Free Press investigative series on charter schools that ran in June outlined some troubling findings, including a lack of financial transparency and accountability, authorizers allowing poor performing charters to stay open and unaddressed conflicts of interest. An August statewide poll conducted by EPIC-MRA found that 73 percent of respondents agree with a moratorium on opening new charters until standards can be put into place by the state. Additionally, 84 percent agree that Michigan needs a law requiring all charter schools to meet the same standards for student performance, accountability, openness and transparency that public schools must follow.

“Student success should be the primary goal of our state’s education strategy,” said Ulbrich. “Our current policies are not leading to better outcomes for students. We need to take a step back and re-evaluate policies that allow unfettered charter and cyber school growth regardless of quality measures. A moratorium helps us do that. Michigan deserves an education strategy that works for all students and taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent.”

“Rep. Roberts has outlined a common-sense plan to ensure that all Michigan charter schools operate with the transparency and accountability that all students deserve,” said Lipton, who serves as minority vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee and co-chairwoman of the House Democrats’ Education Reform Task Force.

After months of gathering data and best practices from researchers, educators and superintendents on how to help Michigan’s struggling schools, the task force identified several policy recommendations aimed at adding transparency and disclosure requirements to charter schools.

“We cannot risk increasing the number of students potentially harmed by these bad actors who financially benefit from the unlevel playing field,” said Lipton. “Parents, educators and community members need to know what is happening in their charter schools.”