Study: Michigan charter school authorizer accountability law ranks last among similar states

LANSING — Michigan’s laws regarding charter school authorizers lag behind many states and need changes to increase accountability standards, according to a new report by a national pro-charter school group.

The National Association of Charter School Authorizers released a study called On The Road to Better Accountability, which ranked Michigan last among five similar states with many charter school authorizers.

“Michigan is notable within this group of states in that it lacks nearly all of NACSA’s recommended charter school and authorizer policy provisions that other multi-authorizer states have adopted,” the study stated.

The study comes as the Michigan House of Representatives considers a package of bills that would reform charter schools in Michigan. The bills were introduced by Democrats and are seen as having a slim-to-none chance of making it into law before the end of Michigan’s lame-duck session.

The study found Michigan law doesn’t have quality standards for charter school authorizers, doesn’t require evaluation of authorizers based on quality standards and doesn’t require authorizers to release an annual report on academic performance of their schools.

Michigan does allow the state superintendent to sanction authorizers but not for the poor performance of their schools, the study stated.

“In practice, authorizer quality around the state has been mixed,” the study stated. “Despite the lack of accountability provisions in law, some authorizers do follow best practices in charter school accountability that meet many of NACSA’s criteria.”

Jared Burkhart, executive director of the Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers, said the study doesn’t consider charter school authorizers’ practices. He said other national education organizations have rated Michigan’s charter school environment and laws favorably.

“The latest ranking by NACSA is a ranking of the charter school law from its perspective and does not consider the best practices currently followed by Michigan charter school authorizers,” Burkhart said in a statement.

One of the complicating factors in charter school authorizer oversight in Michigan is the large amount of charter school authorizers, according to the study. There are 39 authorizers in the state for 297 charter schools. Nine of the authorizers have more than five schools in their portfolio.

The study recommended Michigan lawmakers adopt multiple reforms that would bring oversight of charter school authorizers in line with NACSA’s standards.

Among the potential reforms were creating new authorizer standards for reporting on school performance, new evaluations of authorizers and stronger sanctions for underperforming authorizers.

“These possible sanctions should apply to authorizers that fail in their duties, demonstrate poor practices or conduct (by failing to meet state-established authorizer standards),” the study stated, “or oversee portfolios that contain too many persistently poor-performing schools.”

Provisions in the package of bills currently before the Michigan House would keep authorizers from giving a contract to charter schools that have been closed for poor academic performance and prohibit authorizers from giving contracts to new charter schools if the authorizer is not doing enough oversight on current charter schools.

The study stated state law needs to address the “risk” of under-performing charter schools shopping between the large amount of authorizers in the state.

Amber Arellano, the executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, said the study showed Michigan lacks strong account ability laws for charter schools.

“More than 140,000 Michigan students attend charter schools across Michigan, including many of our most vulnerable students,” Arellano said in a statement. “Michigan students deserve the same quality assurances that leading education states provide for their students. We can — and we must — do better for our kids.”