For First Time Ever, Fewer Michigan Charter Schools

More than a dozen charters closed for poor academics, but zero district schools

The appointment of Betsy DeVos to be the U.S. secretary of education has triggered a rash of claims by charter school critics that the state’s charter school landscape is an unregulated free-for-all “Wild West.”

This year, however, is the first time since the first Michigan charter school opened in 1993-94 that the number of charter schools in Michigan went down.

School choice advocates attribute the reduction in part to the closure of 14 charters over the last three years for academic reasons. The state of Michigan is unable to identify a non-charter public school that has ever been closed due to poor academic performance.

According to a state database, there were 302 charter schools operating in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. There are currently 299 charter schools, according to the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. One more charter school is expected to open in January, which would push the number to 300.

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There has been a net gain of one charter school in the past three years, going from 298 in 2013-14 to 299 in 2016-17. Since 2013, 39 charter schools have closed, and in 14 of them, inadequate academic performance was cited as a reason.

Charter school advocates explain that the net reduction in charter schools has a number of causes.

“There have been a significant number of closings the last couple years,” said Buddy Moorehouse, the spokesman for the charter school association.

Moorehouse said that charter school authorizers had pulled back on opening schools in Detroit. Just one charter school has been added in the city the past two years, even as the public school district received a state bailout earlier this year.

Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the pro-school choice Great Lakes Education Project, said it is not as easy to open a charter school as critics claim.

“Very few applicants receive a charter because university authorizing remains a quality-based process. The fact that it remains very difficult to get authorized in Michigan hasn’t changed because the legislative cap on the number of charters has been eliminated,” Naeyaert said.

The Legislature authorized the gradual elimination of an artificial cap on the number of charters in 2011. The number of Michigan charter schools increased by 42 from 2011-12 to 2013-14, going from 256 to 298.

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