Judge Dismisses Michigan Suit Brought
Against Charter Schools Run By Tribal College
A judge dismissed a suit brought by Michigan’s largest teacher’s union seeking to close the 32 charter schools authorized by an Upper Peninsula tribal college.
Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk says the Michigan Education Association doesn’t have standing to bring three of the counts, and she dismissed the fourth.
The MEA had argued that, because Bay Mills Community College is run by an American Indian tribe and is not overseen by state authorities, the charter schools it authorizes are not public schools.
“The problem we have here is that you have a purported public school receiving public funds that’s run by a private school board and overseen by a private authorizing body,” MEA general counsel Art Przybylowicz says. “In our view, that’s not public control.”
But BMCC President Michael C. Parish said in a news release that the judge agreed with the college that it has the authority to authorize charter schools.
Charter schools are tuition-free schools that receive state aid but can be run by private management companies. They are intended to be more innovative than traditional public schools.
“The MEA has long opposed charter schools, and made no bones about the fact that they wanted to close down all BMCC-authorized schools,” Parish says. “Perhaps this time the MEA will finally comprehend what thousands of Michigan families have known all along — that charter schools provide valuable educational alternatives, and that educational choice is here to stay.”
Przybylowicz says a decision has not yet been made on whether to appeal the ruling.
“We obviously very much disagree with the court’s decision, and we think the court’s decision was flawed,” he says. “I believe there are several valid grounds to challenge the decision.”
BMCC is located on the Bay Mills Indian Reservation. It opened its first charter schools four years ago and has rapidly expanded the number since then. Its charter schools now have 10,600 pupils enrolled in schools throughout the state, including many in southeast Michigan.
The college’s efforts to open charter schools have drawn fire in the past. While universities can open only a total of 150 schools, community colleges have no such restriction so long as the schools are within their districts. Because BMCC is a tribal college, it can open charter schools statewide, except in Detroit.
MEA filed the suit in February against the state departments of Treasury and Education and the State Board of Education, which oversee who is authorizing charter schools and the money that goes to them.
Michigan has 222 charter schools with an enrollment of more than 91,000 students. Dan Quisenberry of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a Lansing-based advocacy group for charter schools, says the MEA should be working with charter families, not against them.
— Associated Press
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