Michigan charter schools push back against 'harassing' FOIAs

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Public charter schools say Freedom of Information requests from the State Board of Education.

The SBE voted 6-2 to direct Michigan Department of Education staff to file what charter schools claim are ‘harassing’ FOIA seeking information the state already has.

The vote came after Western Michigan University Professor Gary Miron last April told the Board charter schools aren’t transparent about how management companies running charter schools spend their money. Miron said separate companies don’t have to disclose salaries they pay charter school employees in much the same fashion traditional public schools aren't required to report what they pay vendors.

This was the motion the state board approved:

“The State Board’s Legislative Committee recommends that the full State Board of Education direct the Michigan Department of Education to research and prepare, prior to the end of summer, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests of a cross-section of public school academies (PSAs) and education management organizations (EMOs) to help ascertain the extent to which PSAs and EMOs hold – and are held – to the same standards of financial transparency as traditional public schools.”

The motion sparked an angry response from Buddy Moorehouse, vice president of public relations for the Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA).

“The reason this is harassment and totally unnecessary is because all of the information that they are going to FOIA is information they already have,” Moorehouse told The Center Square.

Moorehouse said all the information has already been reported to the Michigan Department of Education and the state board.

“The reason you file a FOIA is to get information that you don’t already have. This is information the state board already has,” he said.

Moorehouse said this might happen at the end of summer, which would mean it could coincide with returning to school.

“Instead of trying to get ready for the most crucial school year ever and recover from the last year, all these charter school educators are going to have to spend their time responding to these pointless FOIAs that they’ve gotten from the State Board of Education,” Moorehouse said.

Casandra Ulbrich, the president of the State Board of Education, hasn’t yet responded to a request from The Center Square for comment.

MAPSA President Dan Quisenberry decried the order.

“This is a new low when it comes to partisanship on the state board,” Quisenberry said in a statement. “Charter schools are public schools in every way, and they’re held to the highest level of accountability of all public schools. The state board is also going to waste taxpayer dollars and resources forcing state employees to file these harassing FOIA requests. This is shameful.”

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