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Muskegon Heights charter takeover a 'state bailout,' new report says

Muskegon Heights High School (file photo)
Lindsey Smith
Michigan Radio

Muskegon Heights Public Schools voted late last year to request a state emergency manager in an effort to sort out chronically troubled finances. Part of the plan emergency manager Don Weatherspoon eventually came up with involved turning schools in the district over to a charter operator.

But as the Detroit Free Press reports today, a study from a non-profit research group says the turnover amounts to little more than a state bailout.

From the Freep:

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan (CRC) said that in order to fully fund the schools at the rate charter schools receive, the state would have to kick in an additional $840,000 from the state's School Aid Fund to the charter operator... Terry Stanton, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Treasury, confirmed that the state plans to fully fund the schools at $7,110 per student.

Funds from an area millage, about $1.2 million a year, would normally go toward part of that per-pupil cost, the Free Press reports. But under the current plan, those funds would be used to help pay off the the district's deficit instead, leaving the state covering the difference.

Some, like CRC State Affairs Director Craig Thiel, worry that the plan lacks oversight:

If the charter schools in Muskegon Heights are fully funded by the state, that means the schools would be getting additional money no other district is able to get, Thiel said. "This plan, effectively a state bailout, is being pursued without the direct involvement of the Michigan Legislature or a separate state appropriation," the report said.

But, the Freep writes, Gov. Rick Snyder rejects the characterization of the plan as a "bailout," telling reporters, "We're using the existing mechanism for charters."

Supporters say the plan is the only viable option to keep kids in their schools and handle the district's deficit.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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