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Managing credit cards when you grew up in a cash-only household

February 28 ,2024

As you’re growing up, you learn about money from the people who raise you. Their lessons are based on their life experiences, which means there’s likely some bias built in.
:  
Sara Rathner, NerdWallet

As you’re growing up, you learn about money from the people who raise you. Their lessons are based on their life experiences, which means there’s likely some bias built in.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing — you may have a savvy aunt who taught herself to manage her own money after a divorce, or a parent who cautioned you about debt because they struggled to pay down theirs. Hearing their stories can spare you from making financial mistakes. Even with all that history, though, you’re likely to make some financial decisions that will cause your relatives to wince.

Credit cards in particular can be a touchy subject in families where older generations avoid them out of the fear of costly debt, while younger generations embrace them for their rewards and convenience. Managing credit cards when it feels like you’re being “bad” can be difficult. Still, it’s totally OK to forge your own financial path based partially on family lore, and partially on your own goals and experiences.

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Approach credit cards with care


If you’re a first-generation credit card user, it’s essential to understand how they work — this includes learning about the types of credit cards available, how you’re billed and what happens if you get into debt. Beware of common credit card myths, like the idea that you should carry a small balance from month to month because it’s good for your credit score (there’s no need to pay interest for the sake of your credit score).

Start by using your first credit card for a basic expense or two each month, and be sure to pay the entire balance when it’s due. You can still use cash or a debit card for some expenses, and a credit card for others.

Gloria Garcia Cisneros, a certified financial planner in San Diego, recommends using technology to help you manage your card. Automate payments to avoid missing due dates, and take advantage of apps that track spending so you don’t have to do so manually in a spreadsheet, she says. Also, create the habit of checking your credit card statements each month to review your spending, and avoid saving your credit card information on merchant websites so you’re less tempted to make impulse purchases.

Credit cards are more than a way to spend — they can help you establish your credit history, provide extra protections on purchases and can earn rewards on your everyday spending. Used carefully, credit cards can be a tool that helps you move toward other financial goals.

Lea Landaverde, the founder of the Riqueza Collective, a bilingual financial education and media company, learned this at the age of 18, when she realized she first needed to build her credit history to qualify for a rental home. “I had to learn how a credit card could benefit me.”

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Examine the origins of your credit card beliefs


The messages you tell yourself about credit cards were installed in your mind long ago by loved ones who modeled certain behaviors. Credit card-related misconceptions and beliefs get passed down in families, especially when previous generations lived through difficult times. “When parents say debt is bad, they’re coming from a place of fear or trauma,” Landaverde says.

Garcia Cisneros was raised by her grandparents, who had widely different attitudes toward credit. “My grandpa was so against credit cards. He was like, ‘Cash under the mattress, cash is king,’” she says. Meanwhile, her grandmother not only used cards, but also maxed them out. “I didn’t know which one was right or wrong. When I got my first credit card, it was an emotional, impulse decision.”

Even if you’ve been financially independent for years, it’s hard to turn off that voice in your head that repeats relatives’ money beliefs that don’t match your current lifestyle. You can recognize why certain loved ones are credit card-averse, and use that family fear of debt as motivation to manage your credit cards thoughtfully.

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Set boundaries with loved ones


Beware of family members who see your credit card as their funding source because they don’t understand how their actions can affect your credit. Garcia Cisneros is willing to help her family financially, but she has learned to set limits after a relative used her card while on vacation. Now, she only provides money for emergencies in the form of a loan with interest.

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Celebrate your progress


As you become more confident with your credit card use, keep an eye on your credit score and pat yourself on the back when you see it go up. After all, you’re not just managing your credit card wisely, you’re creating an entirely new money mindset.

If you make a mistake or have to deal with an emergency expense and get into debt, it doesn’t have to derail your money goals forever. “You can start over,” Garcia Cisneros says. “You always have tomorrow.”

Trump is no Navalny, and prosecution in a democracy is a lot different from ­persecution in Putin’s Russia

February 28 ,2024

The death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, announced on Feb. 16, 2024, lays bare to the world the costs of political persecutions. Although his cause of death remains unknown, the 47-year-old died while serving a 19-year sentence in a Siberian penal colony.
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James D. Long, University of Washington

(THE CONVERSATION) — The death of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, announced on Feb. 16, 2024, lays bare to the world the costs of political persecutions. Although his cause of death remains unknown, the 47-year-old died while serving a 19-year sentence in a Siberian penal colony.

“Three days ago, Vladimir Putin killed my husband,” said Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, in a Feb. 19 video.

As an anti-corruption activist turned opposition leader, Navalny shone a light on the brutal excesses of President Putin’s regime. Like Navalny, Putin’s political opponents are routinely subjected to sham investigations, detained without due process and often die under suspicious circumstances. Navalny survived poisoning in 2020.

Not a week since the death and former President Donald Trump already compared himself favorably to Navalny. “The sudden death of Alexei Navalny has made me more and more aware of what is happening in our Country,” Trump wrote on social media. Prosecutors, the courts and his political opponents, including President Joe Biden, were “leading us down a path to destruction” in “slow, steady progression.”

Facing four criminal indictments encompassing 91 felony counts, Trump has often declared that he is the victim of political persecution. His Republican allies in media and government parrot this refrain.

Is there merit to Trump’s claim that the U.S. legal system is little more than the puppet of Putin-like machinations, in which courts are hijacked to knock out political rivals?

I am a scholar who studies the prosecutions of political leaders globally. It is true that such prosecutions have become increasingly common in the past two decades. Often, distinguishing good faith proceedings from bad faith “witch hunts” is not a fact-based exercise, especially for the targets of investigations and among their supporters.

But the law and evidence help to elucidate some themes that lead any reasonable observer to categorically differentiate Navalny – and other victims of bona fide maltreatment – from Trump.

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Insulating justice


Legitimate prosecutions involve the rule of law applied, without fear or favor, to alleged violators of statutes or constitutional provisions. Persecutions involve the illegitimate use of law against one’s opponents to gain partisan advantage, also called “lawfare.”

Current and former leaders in democracies with a strong rule of law, including the U.S., have little to fear of persecution, even if more are subject to prosecution.

In corruption trials ranging from former French president Nicolas Sarkozy to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, democracies young and old have proved capable of conducting robust investigations, trials and even detentions of leaders, without officials overstepping constitutional restraints or generating cycles of recrimination.

Whether this world-wide uptick in prosecutions is due to an increasing propensity for executives to commit criminal acts, or reflects improved tools for judicial investigations, matters little. In these cases, as in Trump’s, there was significant evidence of criminal behavior. To ignore that would have undermined, not upheld, the rule of law.

There are safeguards unique to democracies to ensure the impartial application of law, even to current or former heads of government. Under many common law and civil law systems, judicial members are non-partisan and enjoy independence from the political – executive and legislative – branches.

Most democracies allow constitutional review by the courts of executive and legislative actions across different jurisdictions and appellate levels. These reviews guarantee checks and balances between branches but also within the judiciary to prevent any one prosecutor or judge from running amok.

Some prosecutors or judges are elected in the U.S. Criminal indictments can be issued by grand juries, as in Trump’s cases.

Democracies are also self-correcting. In Brazil, then-former president Lula da Silva was tried after leaving office in 2011 on corruption allegations and subsequently jailed. But the Supreme Court annulled the sentence because they determined a prosecutor in the case demonstrated political bias. Lula  was released from prison and won re-election in 2022.

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Advantages to facing prosecution


Politicians in democracies who are prosecuted will no doubt cry foul and play the victim card. This helps to shore up political muscle, as seen with Lula’s 2022 victory and Trump’s 2024 polling among Republicans and early primary victories.

But for the same reasons, it makes little political sense for their incumbent rivals to weaponize prosecutions. If enough voters think Biden is using prosecutions to sideline Trump, they will surely punish Biden in November.

This is one reason Biden has not spoken about the details of Trump’s cases even as he campaigns against Trump as a threat to democracy.

Similarly, Lula is not commenting about, or intervening in, prosecutors’ investigation of former President Jair Bolsonaro’s alleged involvement in the 2023 insurrection to prevent the transfer of office to Lula.

But prosecutions can certainly become persecutions in settings where the rule of law is weak, democracy has not taken root or an autocratic ruler feels threatened.

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What persecution looks like


Today’s world features many petty tyrants of Putin’s ilk, who use the tools of the state to persecute their perceived enemies. Consider Uganda, the focus of the Oscar-nominated documentary “Bobi Wine: The People’s President,” which tells the story of Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known by his stage name “Bobi Wine.”

Wine is a pop star and anti-corruption activist who uses music to rail against the autocratic rule of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986.

Uganda’s elections have long been marred by intimidation, violence and fraud against the opposition. Nonetheless, after winning a seat in parliament, Wine ran for president against Museveni in 2021.

Public officials acting at Museveni’s behest targeted Wine and his voters through arbitrary detentions, physical abuse and even attempted assassinations. Unsurprisingly, Museveni won an unprecedented sixth term in 2021. Wine has been put under house arrest since.

Like Navalny, Wine is the subject of actual political persecution. It is hard to take seriously the contention by Trump and his allies that Trump is similarly a victim. There is simply no evidence that Biden and prosecutors are engaging in lawfare. Even while under arrest on federal, New York and Georgia charges, Trump can campaign freely.

What should trouble Americans are Trump’s repeated threats in the current campaign to do just what he accuses others of doing: “retribution” against perceived enemies should he prove victorious in 2024.

Whether Trump wins and follows through on promises of lawfare remains to be seen; but if so, that would undoubtedly risk moving the U.S. away from its established rule of law and closer to Russia and Uganda by opening the door for political persecutions.

Fighting over money? Ways to seek common ground with your partner

February 27 ,2024

Figuring out how to manage money together might be an important part of a happy relationship, but it’s a skill that doesn’t always come naturally.
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Kimberly Palmer, NerdWallet

Figuring out how to manage money together might be an important part of a happy relationship, but it’s a skill that doesn’t always come naturally.

“When there’s conflict or discord, it’s usually not about the money itself, but related to the meaning each person is attaching to money. There’s always something deeper,” says Cohen Taylor, a licensed family and marriage therapist and behavioral wealth specialist at the registered investment advisory Wealth Enhancement Group.

Getting on the same page as your partner when it comes to finances usually requires a lot of communication and sometimes a little compromise. In some cases, it might include realizing your perception of your partner’s spending habits isn’t entirely accurate.

Here are tips from financial experts on how to see money as an issue to bond over rather than a source of tension.

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Expect and prepare for conflict


Before getting serious with your partner, ask them how they learned about finances as a child, Taylor suggests. “We all have these childhood experiences or flashpoints in our lives that create these core beliefs related to money,” she says. If you were told to always save for a rainy day, for example, you might be deeply uncomfortable spending money unless there’s an emergency.

Taylor adds that because we are often attracted to people with money personalities opposite our own, it’s important to understand those differences.

Expecting conflict and preparing to navigate it together can be healthy, says Laura J. LaTourette, certified financial planner and founder of the Family Wealth Management Group. “If you just lean into conflict, it won’t be so scary when you get there,” she says, adding that healthy conflict management includes lots of communication.

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Set ground rules


Taylor suggests creating some guidelines you both agree on, such as that any expenditure over $200 requires a conversation first. Then, you can continuously adjust those guidelines as needs and circumstances change.

In blended families where children are involved, those money discussions are especially important, says Mikel Van Cleve, a financial behavior specialist researching financial management within blended families at Texas Tech University. “You need clear boundaries and rules so everyone knows their role within the blended family dynamic,” he says. For example, decide in advance how the adults will share expenses related to the children’s car insurance, cell phone plans and college, which can get complicated.

Establish regular check-ins

“Most successful money couples I’ve dealt with set up a recurring cadence to talk about money,” says Andrew Crowell, vice chairman of wealth management at D.A. Davidson, a financial services firm. That could mean a quarterly or monthly review and includes revisiting spending, savings goals and budgets.

Those meetings can provide a chance to sync on how to trim spending together or to do something fun like set a vacation savings goal, Crowell says. They can also provide a safe space to express worries about credit card debt and similar topics. He suggests starting by sharing your feelings, such as, “I’m feeling worried about our finances,” versus criticizing the other person’s spending.

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Explore perceptions versus reality


Sometimes spouses misunderstand each other’s financial behavior, according to Jamie Lynn Byram, a financial counselor who holds a doctorate in financial planning and conducted research on perceptions of spending and saving within marriage. She found that spouses who perceive their partners as “savers” report a higher level of financial satisfaction — but people’s perceptions of their partner’s spending and savings habits aren’t always accurate, she says.

It could be helpful for partners to swap financial roles for a day to gain a greater understanding of what the other person is experiencing, Byram says. For example, the person in charge of household expenses might seem to be spending a lot, but that might just be because those items are so expensive. By taking over all of the household spending for a week, the other partner might realize those challenges.

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Consider separate accounts and shared goals


Some couples find it easier to manage money together if they maintain separate and joint accounts, Crowell says. He worked with one couple that included a husband who loved sports betting and a wife who preferred to avoid taking those kinds of risks. Establishing a separate account for his sports betting that was walled off from their joint accounts helped them to remain happily married, Crowell says.

Returning to shared goals can also promote unity when it comes to financial decisions, according to Taylor. “Daydreaming about what you want your financial future to look like as a couple can give you something to anchor to during times of conflict,” she says.

Perhaps you want to retire at 55 or eventually live in Australia — connecting over those goals can keep you both on the same track, even as you navigate around the inevitable obstacles.


As war in Ukraine enters third year, 3 issues could decide its outcome: ­Supplies, information and politics

February 27 ,2024

In retrospect, there was perhaps nothing surprising about Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.
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Tara Sonenshine, Tufts University

(THE CONVERSATION) — In retrospect, there was perhaps nothing surprising about Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

Vladimir Putin’s intentions were, after all, hiding in plain sight and signaled in the months running up to the incursion.

What could not be foreseen, however, is where the conflict finds itself now. Heading into its third year, the war has become bogged down: Neither is it a stalemate, nor does it look like either side could make dramatic advances any time soon.

Russia appears to be on the ascendancy, having secured the latest major battlefield victory, but Ukrainian fighters have exceeded military expectations with their doggedness in the past, and may do so again.

But as a foreign policy expert and former journalist who spent many years covering Russia, I share the view of those who argue that the conflict is potentially at a pivotal point: If Washington does not continue to fully support President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his military, then Ukraine’s very survival could be at risk. I believe it would also jeopardize America’s leadership in the world and global security.

How the conflict develops during the rest of 2024 will depend on many factors, but three may be key: supplies, information and political will.

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The supplies race


Russia and Ukraine are locked in a race to resupply its war resources – not just in terms of soldiers, but also ammunition and missiles. Both sides are desperately trying to shore up the number of soldiers it can deploy.

In December 2023, Putin ordered his generals to increase troop numbers by nearly 170,000, taking the total number of soldiers to 1.32 million. Meanwhile, Ukraine is said to be looking at plans to increase its military by 500,000 troops.

Of course, here, Russia has the advantage of being able to draw on a population more than three times that of Ukraine. Also, whereas Putin can simply order up more troops, Zelenskyy must get measures approved through parliament.

Aside from personnel, there is also the need for a steady supply of weapons and ammunition – and there have been reports that both sides are struggling to maintain sufficient levels.

Russia appears particularly eager to boost its number of ballistic missiles, as they are better equipped for countering Ukraine air defense systems despite being slower than cruise missiles.

Increasingly, Moscow appears to be looking to North Korea and Iran as suppliers. After Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, visited Russia in 2023, the U.S. accused Pyongyang of supplying Russia with ballistic missiles. Iran, meanwhile, has delivered to Russia a large number of powerful surface-to-surface ballistic missiles and drones.

Ukraine, meanwhile, is dependent on foreign military equipment.

Supplies were stronger at the beginning of the war, but since then, Ukraine’s military has suffered from the slow, bureaucratic nature of NATO and U.S. deliveries. It wasn’t, for example, until the summer of 2023 that the U.S. approved Europe’s request to provide F-16s to Ukraine.

Ukraine needs more of everything, including air defense munitions, artillery shells, tanks and missile systems. It is also running short of medical supplies and has seen hospital shortages of drugs at a time when rampant infections are proving resistant to antibiotics.

Perhaps the biggest factor that remains in Russia’s favor when it comes to supplies is the onerous restrictions placed on Ukraine from the West, limiting its ability to attack Russian territory with U.S. or NATO equipment to avoid a wider war. For example, the Ukrainian military had a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System with a 50-mile range that could hit targets inside Russia, but it modified the range to keep the U.S. military satisfied that it would not cross a Russian red line.

If this policy could be relaxed, that might be a game changer for Ukraine, although it would raise the stakes for the U.S.

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The information war


The Ukraine conflict is also a war of messaging.

To this end, Putin uses propaganda to bolster support for the campaign at home, while undermining support for Ukraine elsewhere – for example, by planting stories in Europe that cause disenchantment with the war. One outrageous claim in the early weeks of the war was that Zelenskyy had taken his own life. The rumor came from pro-Russia online operatives as part of an aggressive effort to harm Ukrainian morale, according to cybersecurity firm Mandiant.

More recently, in France, stories appeared that questioned the value of assistance to Ukraine and reminded the public of the negative impact of Russian sanctions on the French. Stirring dissent in this way is a classic Putin play to raise doubts.

And investigative reporting points toward a disinformation network being run out of the Kremlin, which includes social media bots deployed on Ukrainian sites spreading stories of Zelenskyy’s team being corrupt and warning that the war would go badly.

Given that Putin controls the Russian media and is quick to crack down on dissent, it is hard to really know what Russians think. But one reputable polling agency recently reported strong support in Russia for both Putin and the war in Ukraine.

Ukrainians, too, still support the fight against Russia, polling shows. But some war fatigue has no doubt lowered morale.

There are other signs of domestic strain in Ukraine. At the end of 2023, tensions grew between Zelenskyy and his top military commander, General Valery Zaluzhny who had complained about weaponry. Zelenskyy ended up firing the military chief, risking political backlash and underscoring that not all is well in the top chain of command.

Should disunity and war fatigue continue into the war’s third year, it could serious impair Ukraine’s ability to fight back against a resurgent Russian offensive.

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The politics of conflict


But it isn’t just domestic politics in Ukraine and Russia that will decide the outcome of the war.

U.S. politics and European unity could be a factor in 2024 in determining the future of this conflict.

In the U.S., Ukraine aid has become politicized – with aid to Ukraine becoming an increasingly partisan issue.

In early February, the Senate finally passed an emergency aid bill for Ukraine and Israel that would see US$60.1 billion go to Kyiv. But the bill’s fate in the House is unknown.

And the looming 2024 presidential elections could complicate matters further. Former president Donald Trump has made no secret of his aversion to aid packages over loans, calling them “stupid,” and has long argued that Americans shouldn’t be footing the bill for the conflict. Recently, he has made bombastic statements about NATO and threatened not to adhere to the alliance’s commitment to protect members if they were attacked by Russia.

And uncertainty about American assistance could leave Europe carrying more of the financial load.

European Union members have had to absorb the majority of the 6.3 million Ukrainians who have fled the country since the beginning of the conflict. And that puts a strain on resources. European oil needs also suffer from the sanctions against Russian companies.

Whether these potential war determinants – supplies, information and politics – mean that the Ukraine war will not be entering a fourth year in 12 months time, however, is far from certain. In fact, one thing that does appear clear is that the war that some predicted would be over in weeks looks set to continue for some time still.

Transform Asian kitchen ­staples into an umami-packed ­vegetarian soup

February 26 ,2024

It’s a common misconception that the best soups require long ingredient lists and hours of simmering.
:  
Christopher Kimball

It’s a common misconception that the best soups require long ingredient lists and hours of simmering. In fact, just a handful of high-flavor items can be transformed into an umami-bomb of a soup in just 45 minutes. In this recipe from our book “Cook What You Have,” we get the job done thanks to just a few high-impact Asian pantry staples. The soup has three sources of umami — mushrooms, miso and kimchi. Dried shiitake mushrooms contribute to the soup in two ways. Rehydrating them in hot water renders them soft and supple while infusing the soaking water with flavor. We slice and sauté the mushroom caps until browned, along with fresh ginger and garlic. We also mix the mushroom-infused water with store-bought chicken or vegetable broth to give it a deep, earthy note.

Meanwhile, white miso adds gentle richness and a mellow, nutty sweetness, and kimchi brings a funkier fermented flavor, sharp acidity and a gentle heat.

Be sure to scrape up any browned bits when you add the broth to the mushrooms — browning equals flavor, and you don’t want to leave any stuck to the pan. Use low-sodium broth, as miso and kimchi can be quite salty.

If you like, you can make the soup more substantial by stirring in cooked shredded chicken near the end of simmering, or keep things vegetarian. Finish with a drizzle of toasted sesame oil, and garnish with freshly sliced scallions and toasted sesame seeds.

Miso, Shiitake Mushroom and Kimchi Soup

Start to finish: 45 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients

1 ounce (12 to 14 medium) dried shiitake mushrooms

2 cups boiling water

2 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

1 quart low-sodium chicken broth OR vegetable broth

1/4 cup white miso

1 ­cup cabbage kimchi, roughly chopped

4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Toasted sesame oil, to serve

Directions

In a small bowl, combine the mushrooms and boiling water. Cover and let stand until the mushrooms are fully hydrated, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the mushrooms; reserve the water. Trim off and discard the mushroom stems and thinly slice the caps.

In a large saucepan over medium-high, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger; cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds.
Add the broth, the mushroom liquid and 1 cup water. Bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits, then cover, reduce to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender, about 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the miso and 1/4 cup of the hot broth until the miso is dissolved. Stir the miso mixture and kimchi into the broth. Return the soup to a simmer over medium-high, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat. Serve sprinkled with the scallions and drizzled with sesame oil.

Optional garnish: Soft- or hard-cooked eggs, halved OR toasted sesame seeds OR both

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For more weeknight-friendly recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap.

In Detroit schools, nothing succeeds like failure

February 23 ,2024

Charter schools outperform conventional public schools in Detroit despite getting less money. And many are performing as well as the best open enrollment schools in Michigan. Their success at doing more with less should be rewarded, but that’s not the case.
:  
Molly Macek, Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Charter schools outperform conventional public schools in Detroit despite getting less money. And many are performing as well as the best open enrollment schools in Michigan. Their success at doing more with less should be rewarded, but that’s not the case.

The best open-enrollment middle schools in Detroit are charter schools, according to U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of Michigan middle schools. The top six open-enrollment schools on their list are:

• Detroit Merit Charter Academy

• Warrendale Charter Academy

• Detroit Edison Public School Academy

• Detroit Enterprise Academy

• University Prep Science and Math Middle School

• Bridge Academy West

The top three elementary schools in Detroit are also charter schools. They even ranked higher than schools that selectively enroll their students based on academic performance or other factors. The winners include Detroit Prep, Oakland International Academy and Detroit Enterprise Academy.

The national news publisher ranks each school based on its performance on state reading and math assessments. Its ranking formula also considers the socioeconomic makeup of the school’s student population. This means the top-ranked schools are doing a better job educating their students than schools with similar demographics.

The M-STEP assessment is used to rank Michigan schools on their students’ reading and math proficiency. In Detroit, nearly 90% of public elementary and middle school students lacked proficiency or were only partially proficient in English Language Arts on the test last year. The results were worse for these same students on the math assessment.

Only 5% of Detroit eighth-graders were proficient in reading in 2022, according to the National Assessment of Educational Pro­gress, also known as The Nation’s Report Card. And their performance has only declined over the past 10 years.

But the top-performing charter schools in Detroit succeeded at helping their students learn more than their peers at conventional public schools, despite having less money to work with. The top-ranked open-enrollment middle school, Detroit Merit Charter Academy, only received $12,831 in per-pupil funding for the 2021-22 school year. That’s 29% less than conventional schools received for each student in the Detroit Public School Community District — and the district spent nearly twice as much per pupil in 2022 as Detroit Merit Charter Academy did.

The downward trend in public school performance despite drastic increases in K-12 funding is not unique to Detroit. The past 10 years have been characterized by record spending on public schools state­wide and declining or stagnant performance at best.

But the top charter schools in Detroit are doing more with less. Many charter schools, especially those in urban areas, outperform local district schools with similar student populations. At-risk students and those from minority backgrounds often learn more when they attend a charter school instead of a conventional school, according to a study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University in 2023.

Charter schools outside Detroit outperform conventional public schools, too. Some charters are independently run while others are operated by management companies, such as National Heritage Academies. Among Michigan’s top 41 middle schools are 10 charter schools managed by NHA, which operates more than 100 charter schools in nine states. Their top charter schools are performing as well as the best open-enrollment middle schools in the most advantaged districts in Michigan.

One of NHA’s schools is PrepNet Virtual Academy, which offers online K-12 schooling for Michigan residents. Like the best charter schools in Detroit, it receives less funding than conventional district schools. Even so, this and other online charter schools can expect a cut in per-pupil funding in the upcoming year.

That’s because Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s budget proposal recommends a 20% reduction in the foundation allowance these schools receive on their students’ behalf. All conventional public schools, on the other hand, will receive a 2.5% increase, or $241 more per student, if the governor’s budget is approved. A cut to online charter schools has been tried several years in a row – by the current and former administrations – but the Legislature has yet to approve it.

But just like other charter schools, online education charters are already struggling to do more with less. The disparate treatment of these schools will hurt some of the state’s most at-risk students who because of various conditions —health problems, mental illness, bullying, homelessness or other social issues — have no other option.

Michigan’s charter schools produce better outcomes for many of the state’s residents. Whether they’re helping Detroit students learn more than their local district school can or providing a virtual option for homeless students, charter schools are achieving more with less funding. Policymakers should applaud their efforts, not decrease their funding even more.