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:
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.
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.