Michigan superintendent plans meetings to hold charter school backers accountable

LANSING, Mich. (DETROIT FREE PRESS) -- State school Superintendent Mike Flanagan will meet with Michigan charter school authorizers and charter advocacy groups in two separate meetings this month as he shapes his plan to hold universities and other institutions accountable for the performance of the schools they authorize.

Invitations to a meeting Monday in Lansing were e-mailed Friday to university presidents and other top officials at any Michigan university, community college, intermediate school district or local school district that authorizes more than three charter schools. A similar e-mail was sent to charter advocacy organizations, inviting them to a meeting July 30.

Grand Valley State University President Thomas Haas was among those to receive Flanagan's e-mail. He will be unable to attend the meeting, said GVSU spokeswoman Mary Eilleen Lyon, but will send representatives, including GVSU charter school office head Timothy Wood. Wood has spoken in favor of increased accountability, Lyon said, because GVSU feels it is doing a good job overseeing the charter schools it has authorized.

Saginaw Valley State University President Donald Bachand? will attend the meeting, the university said.

Several other authorizers contacted by the Free Press today were unable to comment immediately on the meeting.

Earlier this month, Flanagan said he intended to use his statutory authority to ban poor-performing authorizers from issuing new charters. His decision came in response to an eight-day series of stories in the Free Press.

The "State of Charter Schools" series showed that the Michigan Department of Education has never suspended an authorizer for poor performance. Flanagan had said previously that the Legislature needs to provide specific guidelines for shutting off authorizers if their performance overseeing the schools is not measuring up.

The Free Press found that Michigan charters receive nearly $1 billion per year in taxpayer money, often with little accountability or transparency on how those dollars are spent.

The series also reported that academic performance is mixed, and charter schools on average fare no better than traditional public schools in educating students in poverty. Many poor-performing charter schools are allowed to continue operating for years by their authorizers.

"This request follows the message I sent earlier this week to all charter authorizers, on which you were copied, giving notice of my intent to establish rigorous principles for measuring transparency, academic and financial practices for charter authorizers, and to conduct a thorough review of each authorizer," Flanagan wrote in his e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by the Free Press.

"The purpose of the meeting is to review these proposed authorizing requirements, processes, procedures and protocols. It will provide an opportunity for discussion with authorizers around the implementation of a procedure to suspend an authorizing agency's ability to issue and renew contracts."

Martin Ackley, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, said the purpose of the meetings is to review Flanagan's plans to provide more oversight of authorizers.

Flanagan's plans now are a starting point, Ackley said.

"It will provide an opportunity for discussion with the authorizers around the implementation of those. He wants to make sure that these are the things that should be used for proper oversight, proper practices."

Ackley said Flanagan was also influenced by a meeting in February with a state group that represents authorizers.

"A number of the authorizers felt there were some members who were not doing a good job measuring up. That kind of alerted Mike that there could be some issues here."


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