For-profit schools have been in the headlines recently, as students began to realize that shareholders were benefiting more from their education than they were. As the Michigan Legislature examines bills to lift the cap on charter schools in the state, with proposed restrictions on for-profit schools, the legislature should tread carefully. Charter schools are usually founded with an honorable mission, but the potential for corruption can be a concern. Lawmakers should ensure that all schools that receive public funding are focused on education, not profits.
A bill that would lift the cap on the number of charter schools is currently being debated in the state House of Representatives. Senator Rebekah Warren (D–Ann Arbor) is advocating for a constitutional amendment that would ban for-profit charter schools from opening in Michigan. Education reform groups are also asking for quality control measures on both non-profit and for-profit charter schools.
Roughly 80 percent of charter schools in Michigan can be considered for-profit, and if the cap is lifted on the number of charter schools allowed, even more for-profit schools could form. The problem with this type of school is that it takes money from the school and gives it to the corporations that manage the school. This process makes education a business and students a commodity for making profits, and it’s not the type of institution the state should be supporting.
Quality control measures for charter schools need to be in place to ensure they are doing what they are meant to do: provide a quality education to Michigan’s students. Public schools are encouraged to display their budget online as well as some staff salaries and student testing data. This should also be required of charter schools. Making this important information available allows the public to hold charter schools accountable for how they are spending their money and the type of education they are providing.
State Senator Phil Pavlov (R–St. Clair), the chair of the Michigan Senate’s education committee, believes that eliminating for-profit schools is hypocritical because non-profit charter schools as well as public schools are spending money on private companies. But he is simply trying to cover up the issue. Non-profit charter schools purchase supplies from private companies, but they don’t have shareholders looking to get paid. The difference lies in who is managing the school and the primary motivations of those managers.
Charter schools have their place in the public education landscape and have provided many positive opportunities for Michigan students. They are an affordable alternative to traditional public schools or private schools. But lifting the cap on the number of charter schools could lead to an increase in the number of for-profit charter schools and cyber schools unless quality control measures are in place. Lawmakers must be careful to prioritize education and not turn school systems into for-profit ventures.