Chamberlin on Michigan's lax charter school laws

June 23, 2014

"In September 2005, Emma Street Holdings bought property on Sibley road in Huron Township for $375,000. Six days later, Emma Street sold the parcel to Summit Academy North, a charter school, for $425,000." So begins Jennifer Dixon's Detroit Free Press feature, "Weak Michigan charter school laws enable scams, insider dealing."

Dixon interviews John Chamberlin, professor emeritus of public policy at the Ford School, who censures Michigan's lawmakers. "They should be faulted as much as the people who had the conflicts and salted away money," says Chamberlin. "When you say, 'Line up here and you can scam the state,' you shouldn't be surprised if people line up and scam the state."

While the law was amended in 2011, it's still too weak argues Dixon, allowing boards to give contracts to friends and relatives, to avoid disclosure, to run both a school and a management company, and more. "So conflicts persist and Michigan remains vulnerable to those who would take advantage of the loopholes," Dixon writes.

Chamberlin seems to agree. "Conflicts of interest are inherently suspicious," he says. "Not all of them are fatal, but conflicts of interest need to be justified and managed if they can be, and ultimately prohibited if they can't be managed...and disclosure and transparency is a first step."