For-profit charter school corporation’s Detroit media ad buy now has a price tag: several hundred thousand dollars

UPDATE: I hadn’t taken into account that the National Heritage Academies actually began their ad blitz at the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News on Sunday. This post has been updated to reflect that.

It’s Day Four of the explosive Detroit Free Press exposé of Michigan charter schools and also Day Four of the National Heritage Academies complete takover of the websites of Detroit’s two biggest newspapers with a monstrous ad buy. NHA is Michigan’s largest for-profit charter corporation. Like yesterday, when you open the webpages of the Detroit Free Press and the Detroit News today, you’re greeted with an overwhelmingly large NHA banner ad:


Click for a larger version

If you have your browser set for normal view (I zoomed out to grab this screen shot), the ad takes up well over three-quarters of the window. It’s a big damn ad.

My friends at Progress Michigan did some research and found that the typical price for just one day of this type of advertising is $37,500. Multiply that by four days at two newspapers and NHA has spent roughly $300,00, over a quarter million dollars, on this ad campaign.

And it’s only Wednesday.

And the Free Press charter school series runs through Sunday.

“For years, critics of Michigan’s charter school laws have pointed to the same issues that the Free Press is reporting on this week,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. “The response by National Heritage Academies and other charter operators show that they are not interested in talking about real charter school reform. Education should be centered around making successful students —not profits.

“One day of advertising like this could put a teacher in the classroom and one week of ads would fund an entire classroom,” Scott continued. “The use of education dollars for internet advertising is further proof that Michigan’s charter schools lack proper oversight. Clearly, NHA is more concerned with their reputation than they are about educating Michigan’s children, which is precisely the problem.”

Meanwhile, the outstanding reporting by the Free Press is getting attention. Here’s Susan Demas at MLive:

The fact that outright falsehoods and gross oversimplifications passed for high-minded debate [about charter school legislation] in the Legislature should make us all weep.

But the Republicans won. Now taxpayers are now spending $1 billion on charter schools every year to educate some 140,000 kids.

The scary part is there’s still almost no oversight of charters, which “enables scams and insider dealing,” as we now know from an exhaustive, yearlong Detroit Free Press investigation. [...]

So was it an accident that the laws were written so poorly that charlatans could cash in? I suppose you could argue Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers were naive, but Washington Post education columnist Valerie Strauss warned in 2011 about the lack of oversight.

And a lot of money was spent to get the bills passed. StudentsFirst, led by the controversial Michelle Rhee, helped write the bills and dumped $1 million into Michigan in advertising.

Here’s Jack Lessenberry at Michigan Radio:

A few are doing an excellent job. But overall, on average, the education provided by Michigan’s charter schools is slightly worse, than in conventional public schools. Charter schools, we sometimes forget, are public schools in another form.

They get taxpayer dollars, and the newspaper’s investigation uncovered a pattern of abuses that make Kwame Kilpatrick look small-time. To quote the Free Press directly, their investigation found “wasteful spending and double-dipping. Board members, school founders and employees steering lucrative deals to themselves or insiders.”

It also found schools that were allowed to operate despite miserable academic records. Given human nature, you might have expected some of this, but that when it was uncovered, it would be followed by indictments, trials, disgrace and prison sentences.

But none of that has happened, for one reason. There are no state standards for who operates Michigan’s charter schools, and none for how to oversee them. That’s incredible.

Michigan also leads the nation in schools run by for-profit entities. In other words, the state has given the fox the keys to the hen house, i.e, the treasury. There is no guardian.

Think about it: Over a quarter million dollars spent on only four days of ads just to do a public relations spin job; damage control after being shown to be, not the education saviors they were portrayed as by their proponents, but largely as the swindlers enriching themselves with a billion dollars of OUR tax money that their opponents said they were. That’s a quarter million dollars of OUR tax money not being spent on education — the purpose for which it is specifically earmarked — but, instead, for PR and advertising.

Even charter school proponents have to be angry about that.

UPDATE 2: Thursday, June 26th – The ads continue to run on Thursday, Day Five of the gigantic ad buy. Current tally: $375,000. Over a third of million education tax dollars going toward nothing related to educating Michigan kids.

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  • TeacherPatti

    They have to be shitting themselves silly over this. I know I shouldn’t be rolling around on the ground and laughing at that image, but I am. Oh, I am.

  • judyms9

    Good schools shouldn’t have to advertise. Their work should speak for itself via the success of their students and should result in lengthy waiting lists. Advertising drives up the cost of everything and has become so ubiquitous that most of us have unconsciously sifted it out of our attention. Endless distraction/advertising is the enemy of basic learning which is exactly what NHA wants to achieve here: Move on to the sports pages and crossword puzzles.

  • Miss Fortune

    So the Detroit Free Press finally publishes its charter school series, only to net hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad revenue from National Heritage Academies? Although I think Progress Michigan’s figures are incorrect (CPM not that high), it’s so ironic that the “a quarter million dollars of OUR tax money not being spent on
    education — the purpose for which it is specifically earmarked — but,
    instead, for PR and advertising” went into Gannett’s pockets.

    • BillW

      See previous comment from Chris – ads are determined by who’s viewing the content.

      • http://eclectablog.com Eclectablog

        Which, of course, he knows full well.

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  • Tim S

    I recall advertising dollars spent by DPS trying to lure students in their OWN district. Does anyone know the total cost associated with the radio, print and door to door campaigns iin the fall of 2013? or the year prior? Why isn’t anyone complaining how this money was spent?

    • http://eclectablog.com Eclectablog

      How much did they spend? Are you sure you aren’t thinking about the Education Achievement Authority (EAA)?

      • Ted O’Neil

        As of 2007, DPS had an advertising budget of $500,000.
        http://www.mackinac.org/8499

        It’s very common for conventional schools to advertise to draw students away from other districts.
        http://www.mackinac.org/19151
        http://www.mackinac.org/18508

        In fact, nearly as many students choose to go to a different conventional district (taking per-pupil aid with them) as choose to go to a charter public school. Odd how no one every freaks out about that or calls it a “drain” on the district the student left.
        http://www.mackinac.org/19448

        • Ted O’Neil

          P.S. Someone should take a screen grab of the top of this page and post it. Banner had for a National Heritage Academy charter school in Saginaw (9:57 a.m. on 6/27). Interesting.

          • http://eclectablog.com Eclectablog

            Gimme a break, Ted. You know full well that blogs are mostly served ads by ad services and that the ads are based on your personal browsing history, not because they bought ad space here. The exceptions on my site are the ad next to the logo and the ad for Amy Lynn Smith’s writing services.
            You’ve obviously spent time on the NHA site or other for-profit education corporations’ sites. Big surprise…

        • http://eclectablog.com Eclectablog

          NHA has 4,716 students in its Detroit schools. This single ad buy looks to be $300,000 so that comes out to $63.61/student for this ad buy alone and it’s obviously not the only marketing they do.

          You say the DPS spends $500,000 a year on marketing. That’s a 2007 number and I’m unable to find a marketing line item in any of the more recent proposed or adopted budgets so we’ll go with that.

          DPS has $51,979 students so their entire annual budget, assuming it is $500,000 comes to just $9.62/student.

          In other words, this for-profit charter corporation spent 6.6 times as much on marketing as the cash-strapped district it is poaching students from ON A SINGLE AD BLITZ.

          Math! It’s fun!

          • Ted O’Neil

            Obviously those banner ads were not seen by online viewers of the News and Freep solely in DPS. But the larger issue is most school districts and charters advertise in an attempt to draw students from somewhere else. Why is it not frowned upon when conventional districts do it in order to get students from other conventional districts?

          • Mitchell Robinson

            dude, you work for the Mackinac Center as their media relations manager, and you’re on here arguing with people instead of trying to do damage control? they need a new media manager…

          • http://eclectablog.com Eclectablog

            FTW. Comment of the Week.

        • kuvasz

          Anyone citing the Mackinac Center has already undermined their argument.

          • http://eclectablog.com Eclectablog

            He’s their Media Relations Manager so spreading links to their site all over the internet is his job. He gets paid for it with all that sweet, sweet corporate cash.

          • Ted O’Neil

            So I see no one will address the issue of conventional school districts spending money on advertising in order to get students from other conventional districts to enroll, yet everyone freaks out when charters do it. Almost as many students pick a different conventional district other than the one the government has assigned them to as pick charters whey they exercise their school choice rights.

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  • kuvasz

    Privatization is just the polite way of saying “embezzlement of public funds by Republicans who were too lazy and stupid to make a living any other way.”

    Privatization = Kleptocrac­y.

    The only benefit of privatization is to the owners of the corporations. The
    private companies do nothing better, whether education, running prisons, or
    dealing with family services and state child adoption. They are no more
    efficient and in almost all cases more expensive than using the public sector.
    They pay less to do the same job as public sector employees and the profits go
    directly to people who have deep and strong relationships with the politicians
    who promote privatization.

    If you want to see a real welfare queen look at the people who run these
    organizations. They are hogs at the trough of tax payer money.

    Thus, Privatizat­ion = Kleptocrac­y. It is just a big gravy train and only the
    well-connected are on it.

    • Ted O’Neil

      Outsourcing is a very effective and money-saving tool that helps organizations focus on their core mission. Just ask the MEA.

      http://www.mackinac.org/20227

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