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MI Schools For Profit, Way To Go?

September 21, 2009

DETROIT, Mich. - Michigan ranks number one in the U.S. in the number of charter schools, but the latest statistics in a new study show that for-profit education management companies, so-called EMOs, may be losing their appeal.

Michigan has 225 charter schools, the maximum allowed under state law. Eighty percent are operated by these for-profit companies, a rate that far outpaces other states, and new data suggests that the overall number of these EMOs has reached a plateau.

Western Michigan University professor and study author Gary Miron tracks the growth of these companies across the country, and he says the founders of some charter schools are now taking a closer look at the cost of using EMOs to run them.

"Many charter schools rely on these companies in their initial years to help them get started and so forth, but after some years, the boards of those schools and the founders say, 'Wait a second, we're paying 15 to 20 percent of our revenues for a service fee and what are they doing for us'?"

Miron says that, generally speaking, charter school students do not out-perform their public school counterparts, and upper-secondary charter schools are showing lower performance overall.

The Michigan State Legislature is considering increasing the limit on the number of charter schools allowed. That limit is also contributing to the slower growth in for-profit management companies, but Miron says nearly 100 percent of new charter schools in the state do use an EMO.

"Many of these companies are doing their market analysis, finding out where they want schools and starting them, then going after a school board after the fact. So they look to be public on the surface but there's private involvement all along the way."

For many years the Michigan Education Association, which represents public school teachers and other public education professionals, has supported lifting the limit on charter schools, but not without increased accountability and financial transparency.

Amy Miller/Glen Gardner, Public News Service - MI