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2009 August 10 - 12:00 am

Ruling Means Detroit Colleges Can Operate Charter Schools

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — More charter schools can be opened in Detroit because the school district’s enrollment dropped below 100,000, state Attorney General Mike Cox said in a legal opinion.

The Detroit Public Schools had been designated a first-class district, which meant community colleges couldn’t start charter schools in the city. The designation is given only to school districts with more than 100,000 students.

Enrollment fell to about 93,000 in the last school year in Detroit. That requires the Michigan Department of Education to allot state funding if a Detroit-area community college or a community college run by an American Indian tribe want to open a charter school in Detroit, Cox said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Mike Flanagan requested the opinion from Cox. Attorney general opinions are legally binding on state agencies and officers unless reversed by the courts.

No community college has contacted the state about expanding into Detroit, but “we just wanted to be prepared in case we did,” Flanagan spokesman Martin Ackley said.

There are 46 charter schools in the city with enrollment of nearly 21,000 students. They are chartered by public universities, the school district and a regional district.

President Barack Obama wants more charter schools, which are more autonomous. Some teachers have resisted the schools because workforces at the schools usually are not unionized. Critics think charter schools drain money and talent from traditional public schools.

Bay Mills Community College, a tribal college in the eastern Upper Peninsula, operates 41 charter schools around Michigan, but said it has no plans to move into Detroit. It has schools in nearby cities such as Warren, Inkster and Highland Park.

“We feel we’re already servicing that population,” said Bay Mills Charter School Office Director Patrick Shannon. “We need a strong Detroit. We recognize communities need their traditional public schools.”

Robert Bobb, a state-appointed emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, issued a statement welcoming competition from charters. But he also said the schools should be held to the same academic standards as regular schools.

“Charter schools must not continue to be allowed the luxury of picking and choosing their students,” Bobb said.

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