State audit found many cyber charter schools weren't tracking student attendance

Posted at 6:15 PM, Oct 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-02 18:15:56-04

LANSING, Mich. (WXYZ) — The pandemic means more and more students have signed up for virtual learning, some at Michigan’s charter cyber schools.

The public charter schools are often run by private companies, but they are funded with tax dollars.

A newly released audit, with data compiled five years ago, raises questions about whether these schools are doing enough to track whether students they are paid to teach are actually taking part in class.

The Virtual Learning in Cyber Schools Audit, released last week, compiles what the Michigan Auditor General found when it performed on-site reviews at seven selected cyber charter schools during the 2016-17 school year.

“It is time for the legislature to step up and rewrite the pathetic charter school laws we have in this state,” said Casandra Ulbrich Ph.D., President of the Michigan Board of Education, after reviewing the audit.

The audit raises questions. Were some cyber charter schools violating state law? Five out of 7 did not track student log-ins. They had no way to determine whether students were instructed 1098 hours as the law requires.

Of records pulled, the audit found there was no proof of 52% of students participated in scheduled courses. For 14% of courses offered, there was no proof any students participated.

Dr. Ulbrich says we need equitable accountability.

“For example, at a traditional public school, if they don’t have 75% attendance, they don’t get to count that day. That doesn’t seem to happen at cyber schools,” said Ulbrich.

7 Action News reached out to numerous cyber charter schools and the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, a lobbying organization that represents Michigan Charter Schools. No one agreed to an interview, but several people said that attendance and record-keeping policies have improved over the last 5 years.

Ulbrich says there should be oversight with authority, to make sure.

“There are a lot of people making money off of these schools and, at a minimum, we should know that kids are getting educated in exchange for that,” she said.

To put a number to it, according to the audit, during the 2016-17 school year, cyber schools received slightly more than $83.0 million in funding from state sources.