Charter growth

More charter schools in Detroit? State’s largest authorizer considers contracts for three schools

The Board of Trustees for Central Michigan University make decisions on authorizations.

After several years in which only a handful of new charter schools opened in the city of Detroit, three new charter schools are being considered by Central Michigan University, the state’s largest authorizer.

The slowdown in new charter schools in the last few years came as critics ramped up pressure on authorizers, accusing them of opening too many schools and creating financial problems for district and charter schools alike. A spokesperson for Central Michigan said the university had not deliberately slowed the pace of new charter schools, but had just not received applications from schools it wanted to support.

The potential resurgence of charter authorizations in the city is thanks to a first-of-its-kind report published late last year, said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. The report shows 10 city neighborhoods where it’s extremely difficult to find a seat in a quality school, and in some neighborhoods, more than 3,000 K-12 students are without a quality school nearby.

“MAPSA agrees with several of the recommendations made in the … report released in December, especially the notion that we need to do everything possible to ensure that every child in Detroit is receiving a quality education, in a quality school,” he said. “This will involve opening more quality schools, particularly at the elementary level.”

Quisenberry said authorizers like Central Michigan and Grand Valley State universities are taking the report’s recommendations seriously and are seeking groups who can create “higher performing educational opportunities for students and families in and around Detroit.”

Janelle Brzezinski, director of communications at Central Michigan’s center for charter schools, said when deciding where to put the new charters, the university will use the report, which shows neighborhoods like Finney, Chadsey, and Grandmont in dire need of schools. In the past, charters have been criticized for flooding neighborhoods that already have many schools instead of opening in neighborhoods with a demonstrated need, leaving families to travel long distances to attend.

Brzezinski said the potential schools will undergo a “rigorous” review, with consideration for a school’s education program and the community’s need for a school.

Central Michigan is considering three new schools in the city: Bridge Academy, a diverse community school with a program focused on developing good character; Greenfield Academy, which intends to emphasize reading proficiency, and Phalen Leadership Academy, which will be modeled after a network of schools in Indianapolis run by Earl Phalen, a nationally recognized educator and advocate.

The Phalen Leadership Academy wouldn’t be the first for Phalen in the area: three charters in the city are controlled by Phalen’s management company, but are sitting in limbo as the Detroit Public Schools Community District considers whether to continue authorizing charter schools.

Bridge Academy was approved by Central Michigan’s Board of Trustees in December to continue through the evaluation process, while decisions on whether to continue review for Phalen Leadership Academy and Greenfield Academy are expected later this month.

Whether the schools will be allowed to settle in Detroit isn’t yet a sure thing. There are currently no new contracts on the table for the upcoming school year, and the earliest that Bridge Academy would be allowed to take root in the city would be fall 2019, Brzezinski said.

Grand Valley says it has no plans at this time to open any charter schools during the 2018 or 2019 school years within the city, but a university official said the charter school office is always considering applications for potential schools.

School funding

Poll: Most residents want Michigan to change the way it funds schools

PHOTO: (Photo by Ariel Skelley via Getty Images)
Members of the School Finance Research Collaborative are calling for equitable school funding so all Michigan students get the education they deserve.

Most Michigan residents believe the state’s current method of funding schools is both insufficient and unfair.

Those were the findings of a new statewide poll that was conducted in June by the School Finance Research Collaborative, a prominent group of Michigan educators, policymakers, and business leaders that has called for major changes to the way schools are funded.

The poll of 600 Michigan residents found that 70 percent believe the state’s schools are underfunded, and 63 percent think they are not funded fairly.

“The results of the poll should really be a wake-up call for policymakers on both sides of the aisle, and to anyone seeking elected office,” said Wanda Cook-Robinson, a School Research Collaborative member and superintendent of Oakland Schools. “They need to listen to the Michiganders and use the school finance research collaborative study as a road map for a new, fair schools funding system.”

The poll follows a report the collaborative released in January, which recommended sweeping changes to the way schools in Michigan are funded. Instead of sending schools the same amount per student, the report recommended providing schools with additional funds for students who are learning English, living in poverty or facing other challenges.

The group spent nearly two years and about $900,000 producing the report but it did not get much immediate response from Lansing. The education budget signed by Gov. Rick Snyder this summer included increases to school funding, but made no changes to the funding formula.

Michael Addonizio, a professor of Education Policy Studies at Wayne State University and a member of the collaborative, said the poll offers another reason why lawmakers should pay attention to the issue.

“It’s time for a new school funding system that meets the unique, individual needs of all students, whether they are enrolled in special education, living in poverty, English language learners, and [whether] students attend school in geographically isolated areas of the state,” he said.

Details about the survey including the specific questions asked are below.

Timely Decision

Detroit school board approves 2018-19 academic calendar after union agrees to changes

PHOTO: Hero Images
Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said teachers agreed to calendar changes to do what's best for students.

The Detroit school board approved this year’s academic calendar Tuesday night, hours after Detroit’s main district and its largest teachers union settled a contract disagreement.

The calendar approval, which comes just three weeks before the first day of school, includes some changes to the original calendar spelled out in the teachers’ contract.  The new calendar was approved last week by a school board subcommittee without comment from the the Detroit Federation of Teachers, and it was on the agenda for tonight’s meeting of the full school board.

After discussion with the district, the union signed an agreement on the changes, known as a memorandum of understanding.

The calendar eliminates one-hour-early releases on Wednesdays and moves the teacher training that occurred during that time mostly to the beginning of the school year. It also will move spring break to April 1-5, 2019 — a few weeks earlier than the April 19-26 break specified in the contract.

Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the situation was not ideal, and he realizes that some teachers may already have made plans for the week of April 19-26.

“Hopefully, our teachers realize they should be there,” he said. But if vacation plans were already made and can be changed, “that’s good.”

“We will be prepared as much as possible to have substitutes and even district staff, if it’s necessary,” he said.

Ivy Bailey, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, said teachers aren’t pleased about the agreement.

“No, we were not happy with the change,” Bailey said.

Addressing a question from board member LaMar Lemmons, Bailey said the calendar changes “did constitute an unfair labor practice” because, among other reasons, teachers lost preparation days with the new calendar.

“We are not happy, but we are here for students,” Bailey said. “We understand this is what’s right for students. We put students first, and we are going to work it out.”

The earlier spring break is designed to avoid the testing window for the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, a college entrance exam commonly known as the PSAT.

Other changes to the calendar include eliminating scheduled parent-teacher conferences on October 31 because of the Halloween celebration.