Another attack on charters: Making sense of the MI Civil Rights Commission report

Dan Quisenberry
Oct 21, 2020 5:49:49 PM

You may have heard by now that the Michigan Civil Rights Commission (MCRC) recently adopted a report called “Education Equity in Michigan.” The report was issued more than two years after the MCRC held a series of hearings around the state in Ypsilanti, Detroit, Traverse City and Grand Rapids, intended to look at the gaps and disparities in Michigan’s education system.

These hearings drew a large number of charter school students, parents, educators and supporters, who gave examples of where there are biases and inequities in Michigan’s education ecosystem, and talked about the work charter educators do to address those inequities.

While the majority of the report contains important information and recommendations, the areas that relate to charter schools are inaccurate, offensive and harmful. Specifically, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission is recommending that charter school students only receive 75 percent of the state foundation grant that goes to other public school students. That’s right – the MCRC believes your students should only be worth three-quarters of a person.

The MCRC report continues with numerous inaccuracies about charter public schools. For example, the definition of charter schools they used was taken from California, not Michigan law, and the report inaccurately states that charter schools are not required to follow state laws regarding special education, testing and licensing. And it’s offensive to the parents of Michigan by saying that their choice of a charter school is “siphoning off public tax money from the traditional school system.”

MAPSA has not let this stand. These errors and recommendations are being addressed directly to the members of the MCRC, who have responded to a letter sent by MAPSA Board Chair Samuel “Buzz” Thomas, in which he outlined the inaccuracies and harmful recommendations. Members of the MCRC say they are now considering changes to their report.

So what does this report mean, and what should we be doing?

Simply put, inequities DO exist in education - we know this. Sadly, not every child in our state or across the nation has the same opportunities as the next when it comes to school. It's our job as educators and education advocates to first name the inequities correctly - poverty, racial bias, trauma, language access, learning disability, and so much more - and then to work together alongside our lawmakers, parents and partners to develop meaningful solutions that address those inequities.

I have seen firsthand how our Michigan charter schools work to address some of these very challenges every day. I know that we are a critical piece of the solution. However, we continue to see elected officials and other entities label charter schools as the problem. In the MCRC report, they cite us as the inequity we should be fighting against. 

So on its own, this report is deeply concerning. But taking a step back, it is just one more alarming publication that indicates that the decision makers who help govern Michigan's public school system do not understand who we are, nor do they believe that we are part of the solution when it comes to addressing the challenges we are fighting every day. That worries me very much, especially given that this time last year, we were fighting like hell to restore $35M in funding for charter students. 

Attacking charter schools and getting away with it cannot become a pattern. We know the value we bring to Michigan's students and families, and if we don't stand up against misinformation, we will continue to get stuck in fight after fight. Thankfully, there are things we all can do, right now:  

1. Tell the MCRC that equitable education in MI includes charter schools

Completing an activation to the MI Civil Rights Commission takes less than two minutes. Ask them to correct the misinformation contained in the report regarding charters. 


2. Connect with decision makers & share your story

As charter public school educators, parents & advocates, we must continue to tell our stories, and why the schools we serve at are important in Michigan’s education system. We must also work to connect with our elected and appointed public officials. These stewards of public trust will benefit from understanding more about the important work Michigan charter schools do and why charter schools are a vital part of the solution to equity and access in public education.


3. Advocate for the things that matter

At MAPSA, it's our job to advocate for meaningful change. That means addressing quality education access for every student; supporting equitable funding that adapts to meets the needs of students facing poverty, trauma, language barriers, special needs and more; evaluating how education inequities manifest day to day in schools, from rethinking student discipline, to parent support, early literacy, and more. These are the important conversations we must be having, this is how we move forward. 

A female teacher wearing an orange dress sits at a desk talking to students on a Zoom video conference

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