Good journalism can make all the difference, and the Detroit Free Press is a shining example of the power of the fourth estate. Their recent exposé on the corruption in Michigan’s charter school system has brought a swift response from the office of the Department of Education. In a press release, titled “State Superintendent to Suspend Charter Authorizers That Don’t Measure Up”, Michael Flanagan vows to revoke the charter issuing authority of institutions found lacking in proper oversight and transparency. The release cites “a recent series of news articles” as the impetus behind the regulatory zeal — which begs the question: What was Flanagan waiting for? He certainly must have been aware of the malfeasance occurring in the charter world — that’s his job.
Among the guidelines expected to be instituted are:
- Clearly identify the school governing board as the party ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the school, and clearly define the external provider as a vendor of services;
- Prohibit the management company from selecting, approving, employing, compensating, or serving as school governing board members. In Michigan, management companies are allowed to recruit board members and are free to hire friends and relatives of board members without disclosing that information;
- Require the school governing board to directly select, retain and compensate the school attorney, accountant and audit firm. In Michigan, management companies can and often do perform this function;
- Require that payments from the authorizer to the school go to an account controlled by the school governing board, not the management company. Michigan already requires this, but management companies can and do immediately move the money out of the board-managed account;
- Require all instructional materials, furnishings, and equipment purchased or developed with public funds to be the property of the school, not the management company;
- Condition charter approval on authorizer review and approval of the management contract;
- Grant charter school renewals only to those that have achieved the standards and targets stated in the charter contract; are organizationally and fiscally viable; and have been faithful to the terms of the contract and applicable law;
- Clearly communicate to schools the criteria for charter revocation, renewal, and non-renewal decisions that are consistent with the charter contract;
- Require evidence of a management company’s educational and management success;
- Require a proposed agreement with a management company to include performance evaluation measures, fee structures, financial controls, oversight and disclosure, and renewal and termination details;
- Require a management company to disclose and explain any existing or potential conflicts of interest between the charter school governing board and proposed service provider or any affiliated business entities;
Of course it remains to be seen if these rules will be implemented, and in a timely manner. Superintendent Flanagan certainly has a spotty history with critics.