GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) -- J.C. Huizenga's company uses
billboards, direct mail and videos to attract business. It offers
its employees stock options, and hopes to eventually go public.
But Huizenga doesn't run a dot-com or a biotech startup. His
business is education and his customers are the children at his
National Heritage Academies charter schools.
National Heritage is part of a trend across the country that has
become especially visible in Michigan: "education management
organizations" that run charter schools to educate students and make
Huizenga, who has invested tens of millions of dollars of his
money in charter schools, says traditional public schools have
incentives to spend but little motivation to produce results.
"It's the free-market system that's provided us with all of our
advances in technology, incredible breakthroughs in medical
technology," he says.
His detractors worry that the three Rs -- not to mention
innovation and accountability -- could be sacrificed if the nation's
estimated 1,800 charter schools look instead to make a buck.
"There is the inherent tension between the company's bottom line,
which is profits, and education's bottom line, which is students'
work," says Heidi Steffens, an analyst with the National Education
Association, the largest teachers' union in the country.
Charter schools are funded by the state but run by others as
alternatives to traditional public education. They usually receive
funding from the state according to a ratio of the number of
Since 1991, 36 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico
have signed charter school legislation into law and more than
350,000 students nationwide are currently enrolled in such schools,
according to The Center for Education Reform.
About 70 percent of the 170 charter schools in Michigan have some
type of for-profit management, compared with about one-tenth of
charter schools nationally.
Charter school backers favor Michigan because it gives a higher
per-pupil reimbursement than many states and doesn't require the
schools to participate in the state pension plan, a big cost
Supporters say for-profit companies have a long history of
operating school buses, custodial services and lunchrooms and adding
educational services is no different.
Opponents contend that charter school students perform only
marginally better on standardized tests than children in traditional
public schools. Charter school advocates say the research shows the
There are also concerns about accountability -- including who
hires and fires teachers and the composition of charter school
boards -- as well as the financial arrangements between charter
schools and their backers. …