Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Stephen Henderson of the Detroit Free Press has penned a glowing column about Cornerstone Schools. In the piece, Henderson writes about Cornerstone’s private schools and charter schools. He explains that businessman Clark Durant founded Cornerstone Schools 25 years ago; he describes the schools’ history and growth. He portrays Cornerstone Schools as constantly improving. He emphasizes that Durant recently reassigned a particularly effective principal from Cornerstone’s private high school to one of Cornerstone’s charter schools.
I’m sure Cornerstone provides a satisfactory education for many children — in both its private and charter schools. That’s not the problem. The problem is that it can be difficult to tell the difference.
Try a Google search for “Cornerstone Schools Detroit” sometime. Then check out the results. Are you looking at the website for Cornerstone’s private, religious schools? Or are you on the website for its charter schools? Can you tell?
Sure, you’ll notice that Cornerstone’s religious schools are headquartered at 6861 Nevada on Detroit’s east side. By contrast, Cornerstone’s charter schools are based at a location in Royal Oak. The private schools and charter schools have different telephone numbers, and their websites list different media contacts.
But they also share many similarities. The boards of directors have members in common, including Durant, Oakland Circuit Judge Michael Warren, and attorney John R. Nicholson. Both websites state, “We see transformed lives, for good; and a new city for all.” And both sites reference Cornerstone’s “Christ-centered” beginnings.
Christ-centered? Yes. You read that correctly. Unlike Cornerstone’s private schools website, the charter schools site does not explicitly mention “Jesus.” Nevertheless, the religious undertones are present if you know where to look. Under “The Cornerstone Charter Schools Story,” beneath the subtitle “Read More About Our History,” the website specifically recounts how Cardinal Adam Maida once “asked the community to help build cornerstones for the city,” and makes clear that Cornerstone’s charters grew out of “a Christ-centered schooling alternative . . . .”
With so much overlap between Cornerstone’s private and charter schools, one has to wonder whether the charter schools are simply an alter ego for the private schools. They certainly appear to be two sides of the same coin. Do they have separate identities? Or are they so closely related that they make up a single unit? One founder. Common directors. The free transfer of employees between the two. Similar websites. Identical mission statements. These factors strongly suggest a unity of purpose, and provide at least some evidence that one entity is a mere instrumentality of the other.
In Michigan, charter schools (public school academies) are publicly funded. In law, even if not in practice, they are “public.” By statute, Cornerstone’s charter schools receive state funding, just like all other public school academies in the state. At the same time, Michigan’s Constitution specifically prohibits public aid for religious or denominational schools. Are Cornerstone’s charter schools actually “Christ-centered” schools masquerading as secular public school academies? I freely admit that I don’t have all the information necessary to make this determination. But I think the question merits closer examination.