decline could open the door for more charter public schools within the Detroit
Public Schools boundaries, but would there be takers?
colleges — Bay Mills Community College in the Upper Peninsula and Wayne County
Community College — would gain the ability to authorize public school academies
in Detroit if the district loses its unique "first class" status under Michigan
law. Neither currently plans to do so, though neither is ruling it out.
First class is
defined as a district with 100,000 or more students. State law protects such
districts — Detroit Public Schools is the only one — from certain public charter
enrollment continues its downward trend, that protection and several other
provisions regarding first class districts would no longer apply, although a
state legislator has introduced a bill that would lower the first class
threshold to 75,000 students. As of fall 2007, the student count in Detroit
stood at about 105,000, down from about 150,000 in 2003.
Bay Mills, a tribally
controlled community college in the Upper Peninsula, has authorized two new
charter schools to open this fall, one in Dearborn Heights and one in Benton
Harbor, but is not currently accepting applications for more, according to
Patrick Shannon, director of the college’s charter schools office.
"We want to get these
done first," he said, referring to The Dream Academy in Benton Harbor, a college
preparatory high school, and Vista Meadows, a school for fourth- through 12th
grade students operated by the nonprofit Vista Maria organization in Dearborn
Heights. "Right now we want to make sure all our schools are doing well."
Bay Mills oversees 37
public school academies across the state, including more than 20 in southeast
Detroit fits the Bay
Mills mission of serving students who are urban, minority and poor, Shannon
said, and the college would not refuse to consider a request for a new Detroit
charter school, but "we certainly aren’t making it a priority," he said. "We are
never going to be a charter mill. If there will be growth, it will be slow and
Community College would need more information before considering becoming a
charter school authorizer, said Dr. Curtis L. Ivery, chancellor. The college
already has been approached on the issue, but does not have a program in place
for authorization or oversight of public school academies.
"Our first objective
is to serve those students currently enrolled in higher education," Ivery told
Michigan Education Report. "It would be a while before we would be ready for
anything, that’s for sure.
"We don’t want to be
a force that would somehow compromise the K-12 system," he said, but "if it
means we can create a better opportunity for all our constituencies, we’d have
to look at that."
At the Wayne Regional
Educational Services Agency, the intermediate district encompassing Detroit
Public Schools, the board of education has lifted a self-imposed moratorium on
authorizing charter schools but has no current plans to establish new ones,
according to Superintendent Christopher Wigent. Like community colleges,
intermediate school districts in Michigan are allowed to authorize public school
academies within their own district.
"We had a long talk
at the board level. What we are saying is, while we don’t anticipate being the
chartering agency, we want to keep those options open," Wigent said. Wayne RESA
currently authorizes six public school academies in Wayne County, but put a
moratorium on granting new charters in 2001 due to concerns about the agency’s
capacity to organize a larger program, Wigent said.
The Wayne RESA public
school academy office continues to receive 25 to 35 requests a year from groups
interested in opening charter schools, according to Dr. Blandina Rose, the Wayne
RESA public school academies manager.
requests would depend on the individual application and also on how the proposed
school would affect existing schools in the county, including Detroit Public
Schools, Rose and Wigent said.
"That’s how we have
to look at it as a service agency for local districts," Wigent said
universities can authorize public school academies anywhere in Michigan,
including Detroit, but are limited by state law to a combined total of 150
charters. That ceiling was reached in 1999. Since then, new
university-authorized schools generally open only when existing charter schools
There are 47 public
school academies — enrolling 29,500 students — within the Detroit Public Schools
boundaries, according to the Michigan Department of Education’s 2007 annual
report on charter schools. That list includes nine academies authorized by DPS
"It would be a
tremendous opportunity for children and parents in the city of Detroit if we had
the opportunity to expand choice," said Gary Naeyaert, vice president of public
relations and legislative affairs for the Michigan Association of Public School
Academies. Nearly 11,000 children are on waiting lists to enroll in charter
schools statewide, he said, with "a good number" of them in Detroit.
While there are "some
very fine schools in DPS, too many students are not being well served by
traditional public schools. Those students are begging for options," he said.
The charter school
issue and others would become moot if a legislator’s proposal to redefine first
class districts is adopted by state lawmakers.
House Bill 5765,
introduced by state Rep. Bettie Cook Scott, D-Detroit, would define a first
class district as one with student enrollment of at least 75,000. The bill is
now in the House education committee.
Cook Scott said she
introduced the bill after Detroit community members approached her with concerns
about the district’s population loss. She declined to elaborate on who
approached her, but said it was not school district leaders.
Asked if the concern
related to charter schools, she said, "That’s probably in the back of their
mind, but no one has specifically said that."
Schools is studying the implications of losing first class status, according to
Steve Wasko, the district’s executive director of public relations.
‘I’m not sure we know
the complete list," he said. "We are attempting to gain a fuller understanding."
Naeyaert said he
expects a "fairly spirited debate in the Legislature" over the bill.
"That’s a vigorous
public discussion that the charter school community intends to participate in,"
In addition to the
charter school issue, there are a dozen other provisions in state law relating
to first class school districts. One provision allows Detroit Public Schools to
recoup partial state aid from other districts or from public school academies
for transfer students. Detroit may request payment from another district if at
least 25 students who were enrolled in that district on count day, but who are
assigned to DPS, transfer to Detroit after count day. The other districts can
offset part of the bill by demonstrating that Detroit students transferred to
their district after count day.
Detroit has received
approximately $1.5 million under this system for transfer students dating to
2001, and could receive more in the future, since billing has lagged behind
Other public school
districts may also request payment for pupil transfers, but rarely do so. Aside
from Detroit, each district is limited to billing three other districts and only
in cases involving a specific number of students.
Other provisions in state law relating to a
first class district include:
The school board consists of four members elected at large and seven
members elected by voting districts. In all other Michigan conventional public
school districts, all school board members are elected at large.
The district may borrow money to pay awards in condemnation procedures,
with the consent of the legislative body of the city.
The district may use the proceeds from bond sales to pay for remodeling
Urban high school academies may not operate outside the boundaries of a
first class district. Legislation adopted in 2003 gave public state universities the ability to authorize up to 15 urban high school academies in Detroit.
Intermediate districts and first class districts only were eligible for
$4 million in grant funding awarded in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 to establish
middle college programs focused on health professions.
Lorie Shane is the managing editor of the Michigan Education Report, the Mackinac Center’s quarterly education policy journal. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that
Michigan Education Report is properly cited.