What is the Difference Between Charter Schools and Public Schools?

A brief explainer on charter schools, also known as public school academies, and how they compare to traditional public schools.

Charter schools are a popular school choice for many living in Michigan. In 2015-16, there were 300 charter schools, also known as Public School Academics, in the state, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

So what’s the difference between charter schools and public schools here in Michigan?

Charter schools are public schools. They receive public funding from the government on a per-pupil basis.

But while these schools are tuition-free like a traditional public school, there is a pretty big difference in the structure of a PSA as outlined by state law, the Public School Academies Unit at the MDE explains.

“A PSA operates under a charter contract issued by a public authorizing body,” the team notes. An authorizer here in Michigan can be a public university, community college, intermediate school district or a traditional public school. An operator or service provider is hired to manage the school. The operator may be a for-profit or nonprofit organization, MDE explains.

Unless a charter school has met capacity, it cannot turn away students who wish to enroll. Should students wish to enroll after a school has met capacity, they are then selected at random, MDE’s frequently asked questions document outlines.

As far as measurements of success, the same rules apply. “Charter schools are required to meet the same standard of student achievement because they are public schools,” the MDE PSA Unit says. “Charter schools are bound by the same statutory curricular requirements as any traditional school district.”

To make further comparisons and learn more about charter school education, we break down the pros and cons of charter schools here.

Parents can read the MDE’s FAQ document to get more details on specific questions related to charter schools.

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