Original Story: freep.com
As Michigan’s charter law was put together two decades ago, those drafting it faced a problem: Who should be responsible for authorizing charter schools and keeping an eye on them?
It could have been the Michigan Department of Education, but legislators, representatives from then-Gov. John Engler’s office and others working on the law didn’t want to tie up the schools in a traditional education bureaucracy.
That led to the state’s 13public universities. With 10 of the 13 boards running the schools featuring board members handpicked by Engler, the move was made to make those schools the backbone of the charter system.
Engler “knew he had appointed the board members, so he knew he would have influence,” said Jim Goenner, an early CMU hire who became the director of CMU’s charter school office. Goenner, now president/CEO of the National Charter Schools Institute, said he believes the universities are doing a good job running the charter school system.
Western Michigan University and Michigan Technological University are the only state universities with an appointed board that do not have charter schools.
In the late 1990s, a faculty committee looked at whether Western Michigan should start schools. The recommendation was that WMU become involved only in charter schools that had the support of existing traditional public schools, WMU spokeswoman Cheryl Roland said. The university did get involved in planning for one middle school, but it never opened — and the university has not pursued doing another one.
Michigan Technological University never pursued charters in part because it does not have a teaching college.
The three Michigan public universities with elected boards — University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University — don’t have any charters.
At U-M, the decision not to charter schools is simple, said longtime board member Andrea Fischer Newman.
“We’re not in the K-12 charter school business,” she said.
Longtime officials at MSU couldn’t remember any formal discussion of chartering schools by MSU’s board.
But Wayne State jumped in early — opening its own public school in 1993, even before the charter law took effect. It was turned over to Detroit Public Schools in 2002. WSU officials said at the time they wanted to partner with DPS, not compete with it for students. Today, Wayne State has no charters.
Twenty years after the law took effect, Dan DeGrow, former Republican Senate majority leader, said he still likes having universities involved. He believes the charter system is a mixed bag now and would like to see the law require more connection to the universities’ schools of education, which train teachers.
“I would require any charter authorizer to be heavily involved in setting curriculum, hiring staff and making decisions (for the charter school).
“If they had more involvement, then if things went wrong, it would be embarrassing for the universities and perhaps they would act sooner to fix or close the schools.”
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