Classroom. (Photo by Bryan McDonald)

Classroom. (Photo by Bryan McDonald)

Are Lee County’s charter schools as good as state-run schools? This is what we found.

A charter school receives the same funding as a public school, and it is subject to the same statewide standardized assessments. The local school board decides whether or not to grant a charter, and they must follow federal anti-discrimination standards. (more on that later…)  Aside from that, the day-to-day operations and administration of a charter school is out of the hands of the locally elected school board.

Charter schools in Lee County can serve a few different purposes:

  • To provide more individualized education services to highly disabled students (e.g. Goodwill Life Academy),
  • To offer parents an alternative to state-run schools (e.g. Gateway Charter) or
  • To allow public schools to usher out their students with either discipline issues or low test scores.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a supporter of charter schools, despite their unproven track record. A report from The Detroit Free Press found that charter “[s]chools [were] allowed to operate for years despite poor academic records.” Lee County School District is not, however, such a libertarian free-for-all as are Ms. Devos’ old stomping grounds of Detroit.

According to Lee County School policy, our seven-member board may approve a school’s charter for up to five years.  During that time, the school must adhere to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education amendments (prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (prohibiting discrimination against the disabled) the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in employment, public service, public accommodations and telecommunications)

Basically, they are required by law to refrain from discriminating against certain people.

In addition, unlike in some other parts of the country, the school board has the authority to review a charter school’s performance and academic progress. The board may either renew a school’s charter every five years or so, or they may demand that the charter school present an academic improvement plan which will be monitored closely by the district.

BUT

According to School Board policy, any charter school in Lee County MAY limit the enrollment process to target certain individuals. This could allow a charter school to offer enrollments only to highly disabled students, or to students who are at high-risk of academic failure.

A charter school may also choose “students who meet reasonable academic, artistic, or other eligibility standards established by the charter school and included in the charter school application and charter or, in the case of existing charter schools, standards that are consistent with the school’s mission and purpose.”

This means that, despite federal law, charter schools are allowed to limit enrollment to target students who meet a particular charter school’s mission and purpose. They receive federal funding, but are permitted to “limit enrollment” for certain students, despite federal anti-discrimination laws. One charter school in Michigan, Black River Public School, does not allow students to graduate unless they are accepted to a 4-year college or university.  A charter school from Ms. Devos’ home state of Michigan receives taxpayer funding, but only students from well off families may attend.

Compare this to public schools which are founded on the belief that all students are to receive a free public education, and that any public school must have facilities to instruct all students. Schools are the foundation of our society, and the social relationships made in public schools form the very foundations upon which our society is built.

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