School FACT Act Brings Accountability to Michigan Schools

Legislative package holds charters, districts to same accountability standards
Thursday, November 30, 2017

LANSING — Legislation offered by a group of House and Senate Democrats would provide parents with the information they need to make informed decisions about their children’s education by shedding light on the authorizing organizations that oversee charter schools  and the education management organizations (EMOs) that run them. The School Freedom, Accountability, Choice and Transparency Act, or School FACT Act — House Bills 5286-5294 and companion Senate Bills 674-682 — would empower parents to make fully informed choices about education options and make the best decisions about where to send their kids to school.

“When we send our kids off to school in the morning, we want to know that they’re getting the best education possible — no matter which school they go to,” House Democratic Floor Leader Rep. Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) said. “While we have rules in place to hold traditional and charter schools accountable, we have no systems in place to demand accountability from the for-profit educational management organizations that run charter schools, or the authorizing organizations that oversee them. All kids deserve schools that are held to account, and that is what our legislation will do.”

Bills in the School FACT Act would address that problem and others by:

Requiring Disclosure

The School FACT Act would require EMOs to produce annual audited financial statements; authorizers to account for fees collected to oversee charter schools; and charter schools to publish their contracts with an EMO and that EMO’s financial statements on its website, and to account for its student recruiting costs.

Providing Accountability

Bills in the package would clarify the requirement that the state superintendent must suspend authorizers that fail to provide adequate oversight, and provides appeals and rehabilitation processes; and creates an authorizer’s duty to report a financially failing EMO to other charter schools under its oversight contracted with the same EMO.

Instituting Critical Reforms

The School FACT Act would prevent charter schools performing in the bottom 5 percent of schools from shopping for new authorizers or expanding to new grades or locations; require authorizers to attend all school board meetings of the charter schools it oversees and report on its oversight efforts; prevent EMOs from making “sweetheart” real estate deals using taxpayer dollars; and prevents conflicts of interest between EMOs and groups or individuals who establish charter schools.

Accountability measures in the School FACT Act would give parents the peace of mind that all the schools their children attend are providing a quality education rather than simply profits for the companies behind them, said state Rep. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield).

“Authorizers have a duty to give proper supervision to the schools they oversee, but right now, there aren’t enough guidelines in place to make sure that happens,” Rep. Moss said. “The bills in the accountability portion of our legislation set new standards and expectations that make it clear that we expect charter school authorizers and education management organizations to be working for the kids of our state and not for their own best interests.”

The School FACT Act would also institute reforms that would give taxpayers additional peace of mind at a time that the state is contemplating giving for-profit charter schools a greater share of tax dollars. The state Senate recently passed Senate Bill 574, which would allow charter and cyber schools to raise money through special enhancement millages and allow those funds to flow through to EMOs and their bottom lines.

“Charter schools expanded quickly in Michigan, and that gave parents a wide range of educational options for their children. Now, it’s time for reforms to catch up so that we can make sure that we’re doing this the right way,” state Rep. Robert Wittenberg (D-Huntington Woods) said. “With these new reforms and standards of accountability and transparency in place, parents and taxpayers will know that education dollars in Michigan are going where they are meant to go — to the education of our children, and to the promise of our future.”

Senate Democrats praised the School FACT Act, saying the bills would give parents the tools they need to make sound education decisions for their children.

“Parents today have a larger number of educational options than ever, and comparing options can be overwhelming,” state Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor) said. “Parents need good information to make informed decisions. Traditional and charter schools are already held to disclosure standards, but the educational management organizations that run charter schools are not. With these reforms in place, parents will be empowered to make informed decisions for their families, which is what every mom and dad wants to do.”