Michigan Truth Squad: Thanedar vows to stop for-profit charters, DeVos

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Shri Thanedar said he would outlaw for-profit charter schools as governor

The claim:

Shri Thanedar, a scientist, entrepreneur and one of the four Democratic candidates for governor, told attendees at a town hall in Ann Arbor this month that he would ban charter schools managed by for-profit companies if elected. He followed that up with a tweet:

“Success starts with education,” he wrote. “I will close down and outlaw for-profit charter schools in #Michigan. No one, including @BetsyDeVosED,  should profit off of our schools.”

While Thanedar would clearly jump at the chance to close and outlaw charter schools managed by for-profit companies, is that something a governor can do? And is Betsy DeVos ‒ U.S. Secretary of Education, bête noire of teachers unions and progressives and, yes, the driving force behind for-profit charter school expansion in Michigan ‒ personally profiting from Michigan charters?

We find Thanedar’s claims are mostly accurate, while noting they lack context on his ability to ban for-profit charter schools, and on any financial rewards reaped by DeVos.

The facts:

As governor, Thanedar would have significant influence over the state’s agenda. However, it is not within the powers of a governor alone to change charter school policy — he would need the legislature to alter the law.

Currently, that body is solidly Republican and has been consistently supportive of the state’s charter school industry. Indeed, Michigan has the highest percentage of for-profit charters of any state in the nation.

Sarah Reckhow, an associate professor of political science at Michigan State University who specializes in education policy, said there are pathways a governor could take to enact this kind of change, but it would be a stretch. Universities authorize most charter schools, and the boards of trustees of most of those universities are appointed by the governor. So a governor who felt strongly about stamping out charter schools run by for-profit companies could exercise influence that way, she said.

But in the end, “‘outlaw’ implies law. And therefore legislation and therefore the legislature,” Reckhow said. “But there are potential ways that you could use other points of pressure in the system to try to reduce for-profit charter schools.”

In an email, Thanedar spokesman T.J. Bucholz said the candidate knows he would have to work with the legislature to implement any lasting change. He said Thanedar plans to also work with the Department of Education and the State Board of Education.

Thanedar “intends to use every tool at his disposal as Governor to prevent charter school operators from reaping a profit off our system of public education,” Bucholz wrote.

As for the implication that Betsy DeVos profits from Michigan for-profit charters, that’s a little more complicated.

DeVos’s long history of promoting school choice in Michigan was a clear reason President Donald Trump chose her to serve as U.S. Secretary of Education. As it happens, being a cabinet member comes with a pretty great tax advantage, and carries a far bigger megaphone for spreading DeVos’s school choice philosophy. So if “profited” is interpreted simply as benefitting, her federal post would indicate she has, but that doesn’t appear to be what Thanedar is getting at in his tweet.

MORE COVERAGE: Betsy DeVos’s Michigan Legacy

Bucholz said the DeVos family “owns and operates” the West Michigan Aviation Academy, offering that as an indicator Betsy DeVos has personally made money off charter schools.

“You can assume a for-profit school makes a profit, otherwise they wouldn’t be there,” Bucholz said. “We don’t know the financial details since the records of this school are ... private.”

A spokeswoman for Bay Mills Community College, the school’s authorizing organization, said the school is managed by Michigan Educational Personnel Services, a human resources independent contractor affiliated with CS Partners, a for-profit education management organization.

As Bridge Magazine reported, the school was founded by DeVos’s husband, Dick Devos, with her encouragement, and has been ranked among the state’s top high schools, when adjusted for poverty, by Bridge’s Academic State Champs.  

CS Partners is not publicly traded, so it’s not required to identify investors. Therefore, it’s hard to determine whether the DeVoses actually profit from West Michigan Aviation Academy.

Betsy DeVos said she would divest her assets in anything that would cause a potential conflict of interest during her time as Secretary. John Truscott, a spokesman for the family’s philanthropic efforts, disputed the suggestion that Betsy and Dick DeVos profit from the school.

Dick DeVos donates money to the academy and raises money to help support it, Truscott said, “But they certainly don’t receive any financial benefit.” Truscott said to his knowledge, the DeVoses are not currently shareholders in Michigan Educational Personnel Services or CS Partners, but that he doesn’t “know that for 100 percent certain.”

“Obviously they have a lot of financial holdings and I’m not familiar with all of them,” Truscott said. “I can tell you this is a school that is subsidized by significant philanthropic effort.”

Like traditional public schools, West Michigan Aviation Academy receives per pupil funding from the state. Unlike most schools, the academy received more than $4 million in donations from the DeVoses, and a private plane donated by Dick Devos.  

Gary Miron, a Western Michigan University professor and expert in charter reform, offered another interpretation as to how Betsy DeVos may “profit” from charter schools. Rather than fund private schools or scholarships to achieve their ideological goals, as many affluent donors around the country do, Betsy and Dick DeVos have chosen to put their money into lobbying for legislative changes to the public education system, Miron said.

“They have to spend less of their private resources to get what they want because they’re leveraging access to public dollars,” Miron said. “They profit because they’re accessing the public revenues.”


Governors can enact significant change without the help of the legislature. But they can’t change laws by themselves. Thanedar’s spokesman rightly clarified the candidate’s statement by saying the campaign knows a governor needs the legislature to ban for-profit charters in Michigan.

Thanedar’s remarks on DeVos are more nuanced and harder to analyze. His campaign stands by the implication that backers of for-profit charters likely benefit, though in DeVos’s case maybe not in the way Thanedar imagined.

The opacity of privately traded education management organizations means there is no way to tell if the DeVos family directly makes money from the aviation school. A spokesman for the family says that’s not the case, and the candidate was unable to provide evidence that that is so.

Thanedar is on safer ground arguing that Betsy DeVos’s vast donations to like-minded candidates and groups that support for-profit charters, along with her elevation to education secretary, benefit her longstanding mission to expand school choice policies.


Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

ACCURATE ‒ No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing

MOSTLY ACCURATE ‒ While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification   

HALF ACCURATE ‒ Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects

MOSTLY INACCURATE ‒ The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate

FALSE ‒ The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts

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Thu, 02/22/2018 - 8:38am

This article firmly places your "Truth Squad" as nothing but a mouth piece for Democrat Leftist Hacks, and gives it ZERO future credibility! The charge was the Betsy DeVos profits, (clearly implied financially), from Charter Schools! This governor wanna be clown makes this charge with no evidence that anyone including DeVos profits from charter schools. Then your "Truth Squad" uses, “You can assume a for-profit school makes a profit, otherwise they wouldn’t be there,” , a tortured definition of profiting and federal tax provision pertaining to divestment proceeds to justify his idiotic statement. Bridge has hit a pathetic new low for journalistic non-partisan quality. I regret all my past donations.

Chuck Fellows
Thu, 02/22/2018 - 9:29am

If the goal is to outlaw "for profit" schools then, given the definition of "for profit " school being used, every school in the State will have to be closed. Every school in the state uses testing materials created and purchased from for profit publishers. Every school purchases textbooks and educational software from for profit companies. Politicians and pundits are idiots when schools are the issue. It should be about children learning. Instead we have a false debate enabled by misinformation and ignorance.

Thu, 02/22/2018 - 11:28am

How about all schools become private and parents not politician's choose where to send their children?

Buddy Moorehouse
Thu, 02/22/2018 - 12:56pm

The very basis of Thanedar's ad is false. There's no such thing as a "for-profit charter school." It's so disappointing that Bridge not only allows him to say that lie, but then Bridge repeats the lie itself. This whole analysis is so disappointing.

Mon, 02/26/2018 - 3:07pm

Where is the truth in this analysis? There are no such things as "for profit charter schools." Charter schools are public schools. For profit schools could only be private schools by definition. There are for profit companies that provide services to all public schools, including charters.
Betsy DeVos clearly does not have a financial interest in the private vendors that provide services to the Aviation Academy . They donated $4 million and a plane for Christ sake. And the contract with the service provider mentioned by the political operative is right on Academy's web site stating there is no conflict.

This claim should have been given an "F" for False. You guys are usually better than this.