Charter schools' failures are a feature not a bug

Here are two stories from Indianapolis on failed charter schools. Is this happening in your area too, or is this an Indiana specific phenomenon?

A near-westside charter middle school is set to close Oct. 6 after notifying families last week that the school did not have enough enrollment to sustain its finances.

Vanguard Collegiate of Indianapolis, a charter middle school in the Hawthorne neighborhood on the west side of Indianapolis that serves grades 6-8, opened in 2018.

In a letter to parents dated Sept. 14, the school’s executive director Robert Marshall said that the school currently does not have enough enrollment to “support and maintain the financial health of the organization.”

While it’s rare to see a school close mid-year, it’s not uncommon for charters to close their doors. Out of the nearly 100 charters that have opened in the county since 2001, when the state passed a law allowing charters, 31 have closed. More than half of those, including HIM by HER, closed because of financial concerns and or low enrollment, an IndyStar analysis found.

And while no one likes school closures, charter school advocates often highlight closures as a sign that the accountability process is working.

“It’s hard to say this when you get a school that closes in the middle of the year, but charter schools closing is a feature of the system, not a bug,” Marcie Carter-Brown, the director for the Indiana Charter School Network, told IndyStar.

But others say these closures can be a disruptive force for a group of students that are already vulnerable to low student outcomes, particularly students of color.

Why aren’t charter schools required to have enough money at the start of a school year to fund the entire year - educational escrow?


Charters close in Michigan for financial reasons as well. Recent studies have shown Michigan charters tend to barely equal, if not underperform, public schools. But ideology says education must be privatized.


Would that be better?

Asking in all seriousness. If a charter school were to announce in mid-year that it was bankrupt and would be closing, would the students be better off if there was an escrow fund allowing the school to muddle through to the end of the year? I would imagine that a fair number of administrators, teachers and students would leave immediately, given that the school was a “dead school walking” at that point. I guess you could theoretically prohibit the students from transferring, but not the employees from quitting - and you’d never be able to hire replacements.

Dunno - seems like the better choice between bad alternatives would be to get the students into new, stable schools rather than spend the rest of the year in a zombie school.

That brings up an interesting question. How can a Michigan charter go bust? They are funded by the state at the same level as public schools. The Michigan law says charters must be run by a not-for-profit. The typical dodge is for a for-profit company to set up a nonprofit front to obtain the charter. The nonprofit front, then contracts with the for-profit company to run the school. Wonder where the state provided money goes?

Back when the earth was young, I had to buy school supplies, and, starting around 9th grade, I had to start buying my books. Someone sued, contending “free public education meant free”, and won. So, my last year in High School, books were, again, provided, free, and we were also issued pens, pencils, and binder filler paper, at the start of each semester.

Something happened over the last 50 years, an abundance of Shinyness apparently.

Schools started charging for books again. Students had to start paying for supplies again. Schools started charging fees to play sports, as sports are “extra-curricular”.

Over the last year, high schools have started dropping the fees to play sports, but, now, charge fees to attend virtually every class. Looking in the current course catalog for Farmington Hills public, every class has a $10 or $20 fee. The steepest fee was for debate, probably due to the travel for competition $160. Apparently the ideological dictate that everything must be rationed by ability to pay, has overridden the spirit, and court decisions. that public education should be free. But football, with the elaborate infrastructure, equipment, and transportation expenses, is now free. So, the circuses have eclipsed education, gaining preferential funding treatment.



I can not imagine the teachers that I taught with doing that.

Not during the year, during the summer prior to enrollment and prior to starting classes. Certainly a school failing RIGHT NOW knew it was going to be in financial trouble by July.


Depends when their enrollment period begins and ends. If it does most enrollments during the summer, then it would not know the number of students until essentially the near-end of that period. It is a breach of the public trust created by management because they KNEW when they started they were going to be forced to close.

A major advantage of charter schools is they give parents choices. If the public school is failing to educate its students, perhaps a charter school can do better. They are paid for by school funds making them affordable. And they can be selective about the students they accept.

A school that is successful in teaching its students should expect enrollment to increase as parents learn about it. Charter schools that fail in the mission to educate should be shut down. Test scores are probably very important in making those choices.


The key word in your response is perhaps.

Remember: Charter schools are not required to accept all applicants. Public schools are required to do so. Therefore, the fundamental premise is flawed. The schools are not rationally comparable. Require charter schools to accept all applicants and the screaming begins. Because that is the end of charter schools. Everyone knows it. Why deny educational opportunities (cited by you, above) to ALL those who want to enroll in a charter?


So, you are saying:
Charter schools take funds from the public (everyone), but only admit some selected portion of applicants (not everyone).

What happens when charter schools are widely successful and everyone wants to join them - who will educate the unselected applicants?


In Michigan, charters which receive public money, are required to accept anyone that the public school would accept.

But here’s the thing. For a kid to get in to a charter school, the parents have to get off their backside and enroll their spawn, and figure out how to get the kids to and from school every day. Kids with parents that engaged in their education will do better in any school, than kids with parents who don’t care. So, even though the charters are officially open to anyone, they get the kids who are more likely to do well anywhere, because their parents are engaged in their education.

This article pushes back on another report that was not very flattering to Michigan charter schools. The article was published by the “Mackinac Center”, a right wing think tank that promotes the usual agenda of deregulation, tax cuts, “right to work” laws, and school privatization. All that being said, even the Mackinac Center acknowledges the role motivated, engaged, parents, play.


Regardless, if charter schools are effective in educating children we should keep them. Public schools should know how to get the job done for selected students. Failure at that is not acceptable.

Why do we over use averages. Surely someone knows how to avoid that mistake.

People claim how important children are to them, and the best investment, and etc., but in the USA and most of the world this is B.S.

The most effective and successful educational system in the world is that of FINLAND, where there are almost no private schools. The Finns simply expect, demand, and then pay for what is needed to have excellence for all children in all schools, and they reap huge economic and societal rewards from doing that.

Almost all the rest of the arguments on this subject are horsepucky rooted in deep rooted habitual racism, the entitlement the wealthy feel for servile workers, staggering shortsightedness regarding economics (bootstraps, etc.), and KING of it all, wanting to buy lots of cheap, short term, junky “comforts” today while neglecting tomorrow.


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One would add inadequate funding. In part dependence on property taxes which puts poorer areas at an economic disadvantage.

But there also seems to be opposition from teachers unions and a whole educational industry that favors tradition and resists change.

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That’s not an advantage, other than to provide a structure of elitism (and probably racism too),
Public schools should be the only choice available for educational credit. Public schools provide equality - a foundational principal of this country.

It benefits the country by providing shared experience and opportunity to our youth.

And of course, it should be funded appropriately.

Or do we prefer a class-based society?

If we want to fund an advanced school for excellent scholars, that could be publicly funded, but not at the parents’ choice. It should be based on standards as defined by the educators.


The (L&Ses) in Michigan had a bright idea some years ago: having them collect all the money in Lansing, then dole it out to individual school districts, supposedly to even out funding between the “have” and “have not” districts.

Districts in low income areas still struggle. The article I posted above notes there are a lot of charter schools in Detroit. Some years ago, Detroit Public was struggling. The Gov appointed an “emergency manager” for the school system. An “emergency manager’s” remit in Michigan, is, exclusively, to prevent the entity going bankrupt, so the money interests that hold bonds are paid. The EM has authority to usurp the powers of the local elected officials, and impose pay and benefit cuts, regardless what contracts may say. Detroit Public became a he!! hole. No building maintenance, and almost no school supplies. The local news was reporting the system only had one textbook for about every three students, in each class, so the kids had to share the books. That was the alternative parents had to pulling their kids out of Detroit Public, and putting them in a charter that did not have the public system’s legacy costs.

An additional law in Michigan gives the Gov the authority, if the school system is small enough, of closing the system by decree, rather than appointing an EM. The Gov before the current one, closed Inkster Public by decree, and the kids were distributed to surrounding school systems.

The faculty in Michigan charters are non-union. No MEA, no NEA, nothing. Of course the MEA would oppose these publicly funded, non-union schools.

Overall, Michigan gives you an idea what happens when the government declares war on public school systems.



I think we all agree education is important and should be well funded. In the absence of that, how do we get the best results from the limited resources we have available. Charter schools are part of that.

Better funding for schools in poor areas would help. In NJ, the state supreme court ruled that the state had to supplement funds to poor schools under the state constitution. It helped but i suspect the numbers there are still low. Numerous social issues contribute to low scores. Adequate funding is a start, not the solution.


The latest move by the “pro-choice”, aka school privatization, faction in Michigan is state funding for private schools, that, unlike charters, can and do discriminate among applicants, as well as rationing space by ability to pay. Funding the privates would have two effects: drain money away from the public schools, and, subsidize the education of the “JC” spawn, at the expense of prole spawn. This idea was first floated when Michigan schools were first integrated, 50 years ago, because the generally religious privates were overwhelmingly white. At present, the “privatize everything” faction is out of power, but that can change in 2024.



In this area that is known as voucher programs. They are funded by schools but can be used at any school–including parachoial schools. Very controversial.

One thing about education, is absolutely everyone has an opinion and everyone cannot be satisfied. That makes it especially challenging for politicians.

Getting agreement takes really good leadership.

But all agree we need good schools. Not to mention book banning. Critical race theory, etc. Transgender sports.

What else can we throw at our educators. How about the UFO problem?

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At the broadest level, yes.

In practice, though, individual public schools and school districts generally are only required to accept the students who can afford to live in their attendance boundaries. Which is not entirely the same thing. One of the problems that bedevils public education stems from this neighborhood schools model, where residents within a school district or attendance area are guaranteed their kids will have a spot in that school. “Good schools” drive up home and rental prices, relative to baseline. Getting into that housing, compared to equivalent options, requires parents to forego other things. So the students who end up in those schools are (more than average) those of parents who are willing to invest resources in the education of their kids.

This is one of the examples of “Dream Hoarding” - ways that the advantaged class (but not the ultra-rich) pays lip service to equality of opportunity but makes durn sure that their kids don’t face any risk of downward mobility. The quickest and easiest way to improve the educational opportunities of poor kids, one almost entirely within the control of public school advocates and their (largely Democratic) political supporters, would be public school choice. Not magnets or specialty schools, but letting poor kids who live in poor neighborhoods go to a “standard” public school that isn’t their neighborhood public school. Assign spots to the “best” public schools at random, rather than who can afford to live in the expensive upper-middle class housing near them.

You’d see “troubled” public schools get a lot more resources real fast if there was a chance that anyone’s kid might end up going there, rather than just the people who were too poor to live in a better school district.

But that’s a political non-starter. All the folks with those “in this house we believe…” signs in front would go into open and furious revolt if you took away their kids’ exclusive and guaranteed spot in the high-quality school that they moved there for. Second only to their anger if you tried to develop affordable or (gasp) lower-income housing nearby so that poorer kids could move into the district.