The publication this week of an extensive series of articles in the Detroit Free Press on the state of the Michigan charter school sector has triggered a variety of responses across the state and around the country. The following is the text of a letter from NACSA President and CEO Greg Richmond that was sent to authorizers, operators and advocates in Michigan yesterday:
Like you, I have read this week’s Free Press series on charter school oversight with deep frustration. While many Michigan charter schools are providing a quality education for their students, the actions of others are costing the public millions, jeopardizing the education of students, and undermining public confidence in charter school oversight generally.
This is not the time for charter school proponents and opponents to re-state their usual positions. Michigan has the unique opportunity to implement improvements that will establish high standards and protect student and public interests while maintaining the autonomy that is crucial to charter school success.
Here is what the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) is doing:
1) Disseminating elements of NACSA’s Principles and Standards that speak to issues identified this week.
2) Inviting Michigan authorizers to work with NACSA to identify and implement improvements to their practices.
3) Working with education reform advocates to propose opportunities to strengthen Michigan’s charter school laws.
NACSA’s Principles and Standards have been in place for a decade. They identify a comprehensive set of authorizer actions that are national best practices, including actions directly relevant to the issues raised this week.
Today, we provide the provisions that should be present in a charter when a charter school board hires a management company.
Thursday, we will share with you the elements that should exist in an application for a new charter school when the applicant is proposing to use a third-party school management company.
Friday, we will provide standards that are more broadly applicable to good authorizing, beyond situations that involve management companies.
Next Monday, we will share opportunities to strengthen Michigan’s charter school law.
Here is the section of our Principles and Standards that articulates what should be present in a charter when a charter school board hires a management company.
Charter contracts (between the authorizer and the charter school board) for schools that are contracting with external (third-party) providers for comprehensive services or management should include additional provisions that:
- 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 third party from selecting, approving, employing, compensating, or serving as school governing board members;
- Require the school governing board to directly select, retain, and compensate the school attorney, accountant, and audit firm;
- Provide for payments from the authorizer to the school to be made to an account controlled by the school governing board, not the third party;
- Require all instructional materials, furnishings, and equipment purchased or developed with public funds to be the property of the school, not the third party;
- Condition charter approval on authorizer review and approval of the third-party contract.
The good news is that many of the issues raised this week have been addressed elsewhere and have led to better authorizing practices and overall, a stronger, more accountable charter school movement. These are not fundamental flaws in the charter school model; rather, they are important implementation issues that can be successfully resolved.
I look forward to communicating and working with you in the weeks and months to come to improve Michigan’s charter schools.
President & CEO