On May 31st, a full month before the end of the school year, the Taylor International Academy charter school in Southfield, Michigan closed its doors. The death knell sounded when its New Jersey-based management firm removed the school’s principal and other managers. The school board had been dissolved and revenue to the firm had dried up.
Taylor International Academy was a publicly-funded charter school. It was located inside the Christian Tabernacle Church and opened in 2010 thanks to a $250,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation, founders of Walmart and Sam’s Club.
Michigan’s charter schools are famously loosely regulated. A status that is not accidental.
In June of 2016, the Michigan Senate passed a bill to respond to the wildly inconsistent charter schools in Detroit. Described as “free-for-all charter environment”, the bills would have put the city’s charter schools under the same authority as the neighborhood public schools. Then the Devos family stepped in.
The provision was gutted and the bill was signed into law without it, taking with it the hope that anything similar would be adopted statewide. Soon thereafter, the quid for that quo:
Five days later, several members of the DeVos family made the maximum allowable contributions to the Michigan Republican Party, a total of roughly $180,000.
The next day, DeVos family members made another $475,000 in contributions to the party.
It was the beginning of a spending spree that would swell to $1.45 million in contributions to the party and to individual candidates by the end of July, according to an analysis by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network.
CMU’s charter school office, Taylor’s authorizer and therefore responsible for “oversight” in exchange for keeping 3% of the charter’s state funding, stated that it is not responsible for ensuring teachers get paid. It’s communications manager said: “Really the board is responsible for the management of the school, and we contract with them giving them the opportunity to govern that school.”
Collateral damage in Michigan’s charter school wild west.
A teacher at the school sees the big picture:
“This is a new world that were seeing with Betsy DeVos,” said Jacqueline Robinson, a teacher at the school. “Businesses come in. They are businesses and they are coming into education, into our schools. They can’t make their money? Oh well. They will pull out and leave.”