With warped floors and peeling paint, abandoned schools litter every other block in Detroit. In 1993, Governor John Engler of Michigan signed a bill allowing for charter schools in the state. Engler and other supporters saw it as an opportunity to better the public schools by creating competition, instead they got chaos. Ever since, charter schools have been corrupting the public school system in Detroit.
Soon after the state legalized charter schools, the legislature adopted lenient regulations, which allowed the new charter schools to take significant numbers of students out of the public schools and into the charter system. As both the public and charter schools are funded on a per-pupil basis, this resulted in a disproportionate distribution of funding – seriously disrupting the educational landscape in Detroit.
Included in the loose legislation laws regarding charter schools were state laws permitting more organizations to run charters than any other state; public school districts, community colleges and universities are all allowed to run them. According to the New York Times, the institutions in control of the schools can directly pocket three percent of the funding they receive. Not surprisingly, for-profit companies jumped at the prospect of charter schools: 80 percent of all charters in Michigan are under corporate control.
The creation of charter schools was intended to spur competition and subsequent development among schools in Michigan. Instead, this commercial culture makes schooling in the state dangerously businesslike. In 2009, Detroit, was the lowest scoring urban school district in America. Two years later, in 2011, the state legislature lifted the cap on the amount of charter schools that universities can run: a crippling blow to Detroit Public School student enrollment. Four years after the cap was lifted, the amount of children enrolled in Detroit’s public schools faltered to almost half of what it was in 2010. The introduction of financial encouragement to boost competition employs economic principles where there are winners and losers. The city’s youth lost.
The children who left their public schools went to nearby charters in hopes that they can find better schooling there. Due to the funding process, a suffocating drop in public school funding followed, rendering them unable to retain talented teachers, maintain school buildings and provide classroom resources necessary to developing challenging curriculum. The funding that the public schools desperately need, is instead split with the charter schools.
Because the charter schools are not held to the same performance standards as the public schools yet they receive the same funding, the current approach to sparking improvement in our schools is unequivocally unfair. As evidenced by Cesar Chavez Academy, struggling charters can still open more schools. The Detroit charter school, opened a second elementary school in 2014, even though the original school fell to the bottom 2 percent in student performance in the state.
I support competition and choice for students. However, I do not support the laws that allow Cesar Chavez Academy to open another school. With such weak state restrictions on the charters, we are authorizing the creation of schools that will not increase the competition. The solution to climb out of the tremendous debt and help all of the schools is quite simple: have a more rigorous authorization process for charters. For instance, Massachusetts has strict charter laws. Research from Stanford University found that Boston charter students have the most rapid growth rate in math and reading that they have ever seen in any city or any state. Not only are the charter schools performing well, but they are also closing the black-white achievement gap in math by a half and one-fifth in reading. More regulation helps the educational landscape by insuring the charters meet expectations, while simultaneously improving public school funding since it will boost student enrollment.
Ultimately, charter schools have wandered far from their intended role. Instead, many have strayed to a disingenuous and disruptive place in the school system. In order to guide them back to a productive place in the community, we must hold them accountable.