Opinion | Parents don’t consider charter schools political – why do politicians?

Dan Quisenberry is president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which represents the charter school industry in Michigan.

Rickea Jackson is a junior at Detroit Edison Public School Academy (DEPSA), a charter school that’s one of the highest-performing schools in Detroit. In addition to being a standout student, she’s also one of the best high school basketball players in the country, ranked as the No. 9 prospect in all of America by ESPN.

When it came time to pick a school for her, Rickea’s family wanted a place where she could thrive both athletically and academically. They found the perfect fit at DEPSA. Athletically, the school won the Class C girls basketball state championship this year. Academically, it’s the highest-ranked open-enrollment high school in Detroit by U.S. News & World Report, earning a prestigious Bronze Medal.

Counter point: Some things are worth fighting against and charter schools is one of them

Rickea spoke on the steps of the State Capitol on May 8 as part of Charter Day at the Capitol, expressing how much her school means to her.

“I have been attending DEPSA since the seventh grade, and I must say, this school has impacted my life in many ways, both academically and athletically,” Rickea said. “Academically, this school focuses on the most essential parts of getting into college. The faculty makes sure that all students are on the right track to graduate. DEPSA is a powerful place, and when you walk through the doors, it has a special feeling that no other school has.”

And here’s the thing: To students like Rickea Jackson, and to her family, charter schools are not about politics. Charter schools are about getting a great education.

And schools like DEPSA are proving a great education. It ranks No. 1 among all open-enrollment schools in Detroit when it comes to sending students to college. On that same list, the No. 1 open-enrollment school in the entire state is also a charter school – Central Academy in Ann Arbor. And the only thing that matters to parents at those schools is the quality of education their children are receiving there.

“Charter schools are not about politics. Charter schools are about getting a great education.”

Charter schools aren’t political to parents. They shouldn’t be political to anyone else, either.

Parents don’t care if it was a policy by Rick Snyder or Jennifer Granholm that allowed their child’s school to open and thrive. Parents want an increased role in the decisions about their child’s education. Parents want to keep politics out of schools so that Michigan funds what works.

What parents and taxpayers care about is that every student, like Rickea Jackson, regardless of race, income or family status, has access to a quality education. They want a vision of education that solves the challenges we face.

Unfortunately, too many leaders in education or candidates for office this year are not talking about a vision for education. They’re pointing fingers and laying false blame. They are perpetuating the old arguments, blaming charter schools, blaming teachers. What we know for certain is blaming and arguing are not a vision for education.

Nearly 10 percent of all students in Michigan attend a charter school, and yet they’re being kicked around to satisfy the partisan needs of the grown-ups. That has to stop.

The reality is that solutions for public education have been and continue to be a bipartisan issue. Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all strongly agreed that charter schools work. Governors John Engler, Jennifer Granholm and Rick Snyder all agreed that charter schools are part of the solution to our education system. Each of these leaders made decisions to grow and support charter schools.  

President Clinton, in a speech to a joint session of the Michigan Legislature in March 1997, called for increasing the number of charter public schools as part of his national push to grow charter schools. “There is no Democratic or Republican way to learn,” President Clinton said that day in Lansing. “Reading is reading, math is math.”

In October 2008, during the final presidential debate, President Obama said, “I doubled the number of charter schools in Illinois despite some reservations from teachers unions. I think it's important to foster competition inside the public schools.”

Plenty of parents who are Democrats also strongly support charter schools. In Detroit – a city where more than 51 percent of students attend a charter school, and where parents undoubtedly vote overwhelmingly for Democrats – support is strong for charter schools. A poll this spring showed that only 34 percent of Detroiters oppose charters, compared to 53 percent who favor them.

Parents support charters because they see the quality education and choice they’re providing.

They aren’t following party politics; they’re following their kids. That’s what it’s all about – getting kids into great schools. And a great school is a great school, whether it’s a traditional public school, a charter public school or whatever. It shouldn’t matter how a school is organized or who’s running it. What matters – the only thing that matters – is whether that school is providing a great education.

It’s time to work on a shared commitment to create better public schools regardless of governance. I keep thinking back to Rickea Jackson, and the phenomenal success she’s enjoying at DEPSA. She doesn’t care what kind of school it is.

All she cares about was that it was the right school.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Thu, 07/26/2018 - 8:57am

Likewise the choice to use federal or state aid or aid at a private college or preschool isn't a political event either. What gives? It's raw political power of the MEA/NEA/AFT and their ownership of the Democratic Party, that's what it is! And education is seen and almost always has been as a means to indoctrinate. They're not going to give these up easily.

John Q. Public
Sat, 11/17/2018 - 9:19am

"State and federal aid" = tax dollars. Anything involving tax dollars is inherently political.

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 5:50pm

If teachers' unions had the power that too many people think they have, our education system would be in much better shape.

Nancy Flanagan
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 9:43am

'Parents want an increased role in the decisions about their child’s education. Parents want to keep politics out of schools so that Michigan funds what works. What parents and taxpayers care about is that every student, like Rickea Jackson, regardless of race, income or family status, has access to a quality education. They want a vision of education that solves the challenges we face.'

I could not agree more. SO--let's make sure *every* child (whether their parents have the social capital to 'choose') has that great education, in a fully public school, where there are elected boards, qualified teachers and public oversight.

Let's not limit 'choice' to those who have the time and energy and savvy to research whether the charter school is hiring experienced, certified teachers and providing quality educational programming (not merely offering a computer or sports-related trips). Let's not limit 'choice' to those who can provide daily transportation, and the funding for uniforms. Let's not limit 'choice' to those without learning or behavioral disabilities--let's let everyone choose a terrific school. Charters are actually limiting choice to those who meet all those qualifications--and they're damaging public school resources in the process.

Instead, let's rebuild our neglected public school infrastructure and invest in quality staffing and materials and programming for EVERY single child--since 90% of them go to public schools.

Dr. Richard Zeile
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 11:01am

This respondent's argument makes the perfect (equal access) enemy of the good( improved access for many if not all). This is an emotional appeal, not a rational one, and the the emotion leads the respondent to forget several facts: that charter schools ARE public schools; that charter schools DO serve special education students under the same laws/policies as other public schools; that certified teachers ARE required in charter schools as they are in other public schools; and that charter schools DO enjoy public oversight.
It is ironic that the respondent assumes that parents/voters are "those who have the time and energy and savvy to research whether" the candidates for school board will ensure well-run schools, but not the schools themselves.

Nancy Flanagan
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 12:23pm

Responding to Dr. Richard Zeile:
First, readers should be aware that Dr. Zeile is a member of the MI State Board of Education, which goes a long way toward explaining how Michigan has become the unregulated Wild West of charter expansion. The State Board's current strategic plan is based on the following statement: 'Every learner in Michigan’s public schools will have an inspiring, engaging, and caring learning environment that fosters
creative and critical thinkers who believe in their ability to positively influence Michigan and the world beyond.'

That's EVERY learner--not just learners whose parents have the resources to 'choose' a school. The State Board's job is to strengthen genuinely public education. Charter schools receive public funding, but they are privately managed and mismanaged--shall we talk about the charter nearest me, where the founder took $3.5 million of my tax dollars to build his empire, under the guidance of a board he personally selected and misled? They are NOT public schools.

Dr. Zeile's assertion about making the perfect the enemy of the good is ironic--because it is the core argument originally made to establish and support charters: let's take public money away from our good neighborhood schools to make something better, for my child's unique needs. The perfect school does not exist--but we'd be better off investing in public education rather than doling out money to anyone who thinks they can start a charter school because they're a basketball star or has-been politician.

Some charter schools accept special education students, but many use 'lack of space' as an excuse to keep hard-to-educate kids out. I can provide hundreds of examples of this. As for teachers, my local charter doesn't list teachers on their website, or allow access to their salaries which should be public information, claiming that all hiring is done through a third-party company. Who wants to go to a school where the principal and other teachers aren't in on the hiring process? How does that build a learning community?

Dr. Zeile is correct about one thing: I do get emotional about preserving public education. I think public education is America's best idea--a free, high-quality, fully public education for every child, no matter what they bring to the table. Public education for the common good, not for personal profit.

Thu, 07/26/2018 - 2:25pm

Ah, Nancy Flanagan - a well-off woman in northern Michigan telling parents of color in Detroit and Flint that they don't deserve any school choice.

abe bubush
Sat, 11/17/2018 - 4:15pm

Charter schools can cherry pick. That's all there is to it. The State of Michigan has a constitutional requirement to provide free education.
The issue is "quality" or level of education.
Now, what level of education do you think is adequate to achieve economic self-support? Is it a 3rd grade reading level?

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 5:47pm

I'm neither well-off, a woman, or from northern Michigan. But I do know something about education so I can tell you that "school choice" is an excellent slogan, but I haven't seen a scheme for providing school choice yet that doesn't do more damage to kids' education than it does good. Mostly, schools try to choose the kids that are easiest and cheapest to educate, and parents try to find schools that will let their kids behave any way they want without suspending them and give them the highest grade for the least work. That's good for nobody except the investors who profit from ostensibly "public" charters.

B Murphy
Thu, 01/03/2019 - 8:01pm

Do you have the same criticism for Dr Z??? Probably not, since he shared your opinion. Certainly he is not a parent from Detroit or Flint and he probably hadn’t been in a classroom in 30 years but sits in Lansing and claims to know what’s best for kids. Laughable!!! (If it wasn’t such a sad situation.)

Thu, 07/26/2018 - 9:44pm

I think the state needs to ban for profit charter schools. It is expensive to educate children, how do the for profits make their money? By paying their teachers poorly, by not having legacy costs, by not serving special education students (I know they are supposed to). Sure they will take a mild learning disability or ADHD, but are they servicing the expensive kids - those who are cognitively impaired, visually impaired, deaf, students, or those with with severe ASD? How about the severely physically impaired? Nope. The concept of charters is okay, but the execution in Michigan is bad - mainly because of the need to deprive their teachers and students in order to make their profit.

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 5:49pm

The original concept of charters might not have been bad, but implementation everywhere suffers from the shortcomings you've identified in Michigan. It's not just this state. Charters everywhere have done far more harm than good.

B Murphy
Thu, 01/03/2019 - 7:57pm

Exactly which charters are you referring to???? Those that I am familiar with do NONE of those things.

B Murphy
Thu, 01/03/2019 - 7:55pm

Very well said!

Chantel Jackson
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 12:04pm

Thank for you this commentary. As a Detroit charter school parent, I'm tired of my kids being used as political pawns. I wouldn't vote for a Republican under almost any circumstance, but I'm sick and tired of people like Mitchell Robinson and Nancy Flanagan (who has commented here) telling parents of color in Detroit that they don't deserve a choice in where their kids go to school. That's a form of racism that we all need to object to. Why is it that all the bloggers and politicians who are leading the attack on school choice are not people of color? You don't see Detroit politicians leading this fight because they know better.

I thought the best part of this commentary was when he pointed out that both President Obama and Trump have supported charter schools. This might be the only thing they agree on. If they aren't playing politics with our kids, why are people in Michigan doing it?

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 5:52pm

Trump and Obama agreed on charter schools because education was the single worst policy area of the Obama administration. One could argue that Arne Duncan was a worse Secretary of Education than Betsy DeVos; her incompetence has stopped her from doing as much damage as he did.

The NAACP has woken up to the fact that charters are mostly scams and called for a moratorium on new charters. This isn't just a case of white people opposing charters. Everyone who understands and values education does.

Steven Camron
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 3:24pm

Just look at the history of charter development, it’s all politics! Over 80 charter schools were deliberately but indiscriminately placed surrounding DPS. This was a neoliberal plan, pushed by Engler and his puppets at CMU, to chaotically disrupt public schools and destroy the teacher unions. Once the charters became the target of nefarious for-profit management companies, academics and curriculum took a backseat to the bottom line, thus most have worse performance than nearby traditional schools.

John Q. Public
Thu, 07/26/2018 - 8:37pm

Without getting into the merits and detriments of any individual school, try to answer the question asked in the title. Start here: "And the only thing that matters to parents at (charter) schools is the quality of education their children are receiving there."

Parents aren't concerned with the politics because they don't have to be. They have the luxury of an individual approach to an individual decision. They get to choose what they think is best for themselves without regard to how it affects anyone else. If they choose wrong (and you will NEVER hear a parent say, "Boy, we sure screwed up sending our kid to THAT school!") nobody holds them accountable.

If the existence of 150,000 charter school students re-directs more than $1 billion out of local school districts' budgets, what do the charter parents care? Out of all the parents who aren't adequately involved in their kids' education, probably close to 0% send their kids to a charter school. The local school districts keep half the students with involved parents, and close to 100% of students with uninvolved parents--those typically with the most difficulties to overcome in providing an adequate education--and get lots fewer resources with which to achieve that.

Politicians are tasked with providing, at at least some minimal level, for those who have the least. If they fail, they're berated--often by those who have little idea about how to allocate now-scarcer resources. Those committed to local school districts have to confront the GLEP-financed proponents of one of the major barriers to meeting their mission. It's their quest to make sure those with the least, whether through their own fault or not, are not left completely behind while still providing a challenging quality education for the brightest and most motivated. The people who fund GLEP are the same people who buy boats at a price equal to the GDP of small countries.

It's the individual versus the commons, and you can see it just in the comments here from the opposing sides. And that's why it's political for politicians. I'm not saying parents are wrong taking a "me first" approach to choosing schools--our household did the same thing, albeit with schools of choice and not charters--only that that's why it's political.

Just as an aside, I'll bet if I had the #9 rated player in the country on my Class C team, I could win a state championship without regard to whether the school was a charter or not.

Fri, 07/27/2018 - 10:50pm

Charter schools are publically funded and governed within state law. They are therefore political. Taxation with representation is a basic American civics principle. Without politics, you don't get the funding. Forgoing locally elected officials does not exempt a publicly funded entity from scrutiny. Make sense now?

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 07/29/2018 - 10:55am

Nothing wrong with choice as long as all kids are treated equally. If Charters are public schools, then they should follow the same rules as public schools including oversight by a school board and public records and teacher certification. Charters and public schools should work together as they were originally intended, not in competition which has led to winners and losers especially in low income school districts.

Lee Griffin
Sun, 07/29/2018 - 2:12pm

I agree with the other commenters who wrote in opposition to charters, and I'll describe one additional problem with them. The founding fathers recognized that democracy could succeed only with an educated, enlightened citizenry that couldn't be easily misled by demogogues (ring a bell with anyone?). That's why, in 1787, they set aside 1/36 of the new Northwest Territory for the support of public education. For most of our history, public education has been a major factor in the "melting pot" effect, which has assimilated and integrated immigrants from all over the world, as well as from the various sections of the country. I think we need that unifying force as much now as we ever did. Charters separate children to learn alongside "their own kind," whether that's racial, religious, national, social class, or political persuasion. How much better for a child to see that "those people" like recess and candy, struggle with math, and laugh just like they do. And future generations of Americans get a citizenry with more shared knowledge, culture, expectations, and values that public schools instill. Not that everyone will agree - just that they will be more likely to see them as fellow humans and Americans rather than "the other."

P W Robinson
Thu, 11/01/2018 - 9:59am

What a brilliant article. This should be one of the hot button issues of every election. What kind of person is against charter schools? It's inhuman not to want disadvantaged kids to have their best chance, with a level playing field.

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 5:44pm

What sort of person is against charters? One that values and understands education. Universally, those people are against charters, since they understand that they serve in most cases to allow well-connected people to profit from the destruction of the education system. The public system is more transparent, more democratic, and in most cases better at educating kids, even with the damage that's been done to it by charters. The only reason charters continue to exist is because they profit people who can call in votes and fund propaganda to make sure they keep profiting.

A better question is: what sort of person supports charters? There are two sorts: the first are well-intentioned people who believe the press releases but don't actually understand much about education, and so fail to realize that, while there are good charters, they're rare and mostly used to prop up the scam that is the charter industry as a whole. The second sort are the knowledgeable but ethically bankrupt people who wrote those misleading press releases, and who did so because they stand to profit, directly or indirectly, from scamming the public

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 11:02am

There are good charter schools. But there are also low performing ones. Remember the charter school that closed one month after the school year began leaving parents and kids scrambling. As a taxpayer I want charter schools held accountable to the public as to how those dollars are spent. Our Repub legislature at the behest of the DeVos family made sure that for profits charters are not accountable to the taxpayer. So, yes, as long as charters receive tax payer dollars, it is political.

Ken Foster
Sat, 11/17/2018 - 12:20pm

Public schools are governed by the public. Charter schools are run by un-elected boards with no direct responsibility to the voting public. The only public element in Charter schools is the public monies that are spent with no DIRECT accountability.

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 1:41pm

In places like Detroit where the public school system is under funded & literally crumbling down around them we need to put more money into the public school system instead of funneling away tax payers money to privately owned charter schools. Betsy DeVos ruined the educational system in MI and is on her way to destroying public schools all together.

Debra Sacheck
Sat, 11/17/2018 - 5:11pm

Charter schools lack and will not offer accommodations for special needs children. All children deserve an education not just the smartest. If you had your way, only ten percent of the children in Michigan would have an education.

Debra Sacheck
Sat, 11/17/2018 - 5:11pm

Charter schools lack and will not offer accommodations for special needs children. All children deserve an education not just the smartest. If you had your way, only ten percent of the children in Michigan would have an education.

Timothy Rhoades
Fri, 12/21/2018 - 12:29am

I think politicians consider it political because IT IS POLITiCAL! Seriously, Dan should know this. I might be wrong, but to me he clearly loos like a DeVos spokesperson supporting for-profit schools.

James Anderson
Wed, 01/02/2019 - 10:11am

Charter schools are the indirect route the DeVos family and their allies have pursued to realize their dream of privatizing our public schools. It's all a scam to eventually dismantle public education and fill their pockets. How can the Bridge justify this guest commentary? Who authorized this propaganda piece? Step up and tell us why! Let's hear it!

Dennis B Murphy
Thu, 01/03/2019 - 8:51am

Where charter schools work is due to smaller class size. If the public spent more on public schools we could lower the class sizes there too.
Charters also have a built in advantage- usually engaged parents.

Charters are political because they were born of the political desire of the right/Republicans to break the teacher unions, divest from public schools and use charters as a wedge to eventually implement vouchers to fund religious schools.
If charters had to pay prevailing teacher salary of the nearby public system ans use the same class sizes nobody would be championing their use.
And we have not even touched on money diverted to profits for the private charters..public tax dollars filling the wallets of the wealthy and connected

B Murphy
Thu, 01/03/2019 - 7:54pm

Is DSPCA a for profit charter? Does it accept students with all types of learning styles or is it a charter that hand picks its students and offers no special services to those that need them. That is my complaint about charters - they are not held to the same standards as public schools and they have the luxury of choosing their population.

Sun, 01/20/2019 - 10:10pm

My nephew is a teacher at a charter school in Traverse City. He was allowed to share his politics during the last election. He had a bumper sticker on his vehicle and was allowed to park in the school parking lot. He posted pictures of himself at political rallies on social
Media that his students could access. How is this not political? I couldn’t do this at my public school.