Fighting the Privatization of Michigan’s Schools Starts with Charter School Authorizers

By publicly shaming authorizers and simultaneously pushing for legislative action, DSA chapters across Michigan are combatting the privatization of public education.

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Capital loves to obscure its motives with jargon.

Spending cuts that gut vital programs? We’ll call that “austerity.”

Need to convince workers they don’t need labor unions? We’ll frame the issue around the “right to work.”

Manipulate the language and you manipulate the conversation.

The world of education privatization is rife with these obscurities and are used under similar pretenses. Michigan’s leading charter school advocacy group even admits the language used is confusing:

“I bet when you started looking at a charter school for your child, you didn’t realize that you would need to learn a whole new vocabulary: authorizer, management company, charter, and the list goes on. All these entities can be very confusing and blend together.”

So what exactly is a charter school authorizer and why should we care? The Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA) defines authorizers as the entities that review applications, set expectations, and oversee the performance of a charter school.

According to MAPSA, these authorizers (who are often institutions of higher learning) are tasked with holding charter schools “accountable,” allowing schools to be more flexible to the needs of students and the community.

Where’s the accountability?
This optimistic view of accountability isn’t shared by charter school teacher and Detroit DSA member, Jason Hackney.

“Accountability from authorizers is optional and in no way mandated by the state except in Detroit,” says Hackney. “With a three percent kickback for each charter school student, the motivation can lead self-regulation to little more than a rubber stamp.”

This lack of accountability by authorizers, who ultimately have the power to decide if a charter school stays open, leads to what anti-charter activists see as as a glaring conflict of interest with more than one billion dollars of taxpayer money in play.

But why is this self-regulation in education such a danger? What risk does privatization really pose?

Simply put, a socialist perspective views the goals of profit and the goals of education as diametrically opposed.

“This is really about making quality education available to the elite and turning our students into a commodity that can be traded and made into a monetary motivation,” says Hackney.

“I have taught in five charter schools in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Detroit all of which filled their seats with minorities or children living in poverty. When proponents of charter schools, especially for-profit charter schools, claim that this is about school choice, they only mean choice for the most powerless communities.”

Targeting authorizers is key
Together with other chapters across Michigan, Hackney and others are coordinating a statewide campaign to combat the privatization of public education. Raising awareness and pushing for legislative action, the group is focusing their attention on charter school authorizers.

“[We have] chosen to target authorizers because they are…key to expanding this for-profit racket,” says Hackney.

“Why can places like Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State continue to open charter schools when there are students within their portfolio of charters that cannot even attend their places of higher education?”

By publicly shaming authorizers and simultaneously pushing for legislative action, Detroit DSA is committed to driving the conversation all the way to Lansing.

“The ultimate goal is the total and complete transformation of for-profit charter schools into transparent non-profit entities,” Hackney says. “We call for a standard that authorizers cannot open any new charter schools until all of its schools in its portfolio are serving their students in a way that parents, students, and taxpayers expect.”

“Activists are those who want to see Michigan and their children succeed,” says Hackney. “It shouldn’t just be a callout for authorizers, but also a callout for the whole education system in this state.”

Those wishing to get more involved in fighting this issue are encouraged to join the Detroit DSA’s Charter School Working Group by emailing

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The Detroit chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, join us:

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