Most people think that the Northern Michigan Partnership provided once-a-week enrichment classes for homeschool students at the former Interlochen School. As new superintendent Ann Cardon shuffles off to buffalo less than 3 months in, many citizens are wondering just what was wrong with the Northern Michigan Partnership and why it is at the center of the Cardon controversy.
The Northern Michigan Partnership was commonly known as a once-a-week program held at the Interlochen school building. Homeschool kids met once-a-week to take classes like guitar, Spanish and gymnastics.
But instead of billing it to the State of Michigan like the kids were there once a week for a few hours, TCAPS was billing it like the kids were not quite full-time students. You see, they put all these classes into an “online” school. They very carefully chose their words — that the kids weren’t taking elective classes once per week – they were taking online classes that just happened to have a once-per-week in-person option.
Then, they told the state that the kids were taking online courses for up to 75% of a full-time student equivalent, instead of the once per week for a few hours that the kid were actually showing up and sitting in the seats. As far as the student count was concerned, these kids were mostly taking the courses (gymnastics, for example) online. Then they were just meeting once a week for an “optional” in-person thing.
So the way they were billing it, they were telling the MDE that the kids were spending up to 75% of a traditional school week on these little elective classes like guitar and gymnastics.
According to TCAPS, the kids were so engrossed in their online guitar and gymnastics coursework that they were really .75 of a full-time student. TCAPS wanted the MDE to believe, and more importantly to pay, like these kids were spending the vast majority of their school time on these little electives. If the kids really were .75 of a student taking guitar and gymnastics, that doesn’t leave a lot of time for the homeschool kids to take language arts, math and science on their own.
The kids were showing up once a week for their elective classes for a few hours. Billing the MDE for .1 would have been honest. Billing .75 and calling them online classes with an in-person option was not.
In previous versions of the law, the school had to account for a situation like that up front. If the student wasn’t sitting in the seat, but the school was billing for the time, the school had to fill out what was called a seat-time waiver. It was basically an explain yo’self document.
However, Michigan officials dropped the waiver/explanation requirement. And so Paul Soma was free to cook up this scheme with what he thought was a lack of accountability. And he went for it. Then, the State of Michigan audited them after the fact and said nut-uh.
So that was the issue – that they were overbilling the state at a shocking rate for what little work the kids were actually doing. It wasn’t necessarily that it was involving homeschool kids or that they were doing elective classes. It was that they were trying to make them out to be nearly full-time students when they were barely any time students.
TCAPS has long had this coming. And yet, Sue Kelly still wants and thinks that the rest of the state should listen to TCAPS when it comes to rejecting the Student Finance Research Collaborative.
Here is the Michigan definition of fraud:
“A person who, with the intent to defraud or cheat makes or uses a false pretense to obtain from a person any money or valuable thing.” Michigan Compiled Law 750.218.
Why doesn’t the Homeschool Partnership just operate honestly? Two reasons: One, they probably don’t want to do that if it’s not going to be a cash cow for the district. Two, there were other problems with it, like equal access to courses for traditionally enrolled students.
So that was what was wrong with the Homeschool Partnership. Fuzzy math. And no, math was not one of the elective options at the Homeschool Partnership.
NOTE: As I’ve said before, TCAPS has a similar elective-billing system going with several non-public schools in the Grand Traverse region. They supply teachers for non-core classes for kids at non-public schools and then bill the State of Michigan for per-pupil funding for these kids through TCAPS. Someone should look into whether TCAPS is inflating numbers for those kids. I don’t know the answer to that, but it’s a question I’d like an answer to.