Metro Parent’s Guide to Michigan Charter Schools

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Across the state, there are nearly 300 Michigan charter schools that serve more than 150,000 students — and new charter schools are forming all the time. But what exactly are charter schools and how do they work? How do you know if a Michigan charter school is the right fit for your family?

We teamed up with Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office — the largest authorizer of Michigan charter schools — for a deep dive into the world of charter public schools. Here, we cover the basics — as well as some pretty specific information — about Michigan charter schools and how they work to provide high-quality, robust K-12 education here in metro Detroit and across the state.

Dig in and consider this page your “Michigan Charter Schools 101.” Come back often, as we’ll update our content regularly to bring you an even broader range of stories about Michigan charter schools.

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What is a charter school?

Michigan charter schools have many different names. Sometimes they’re called charter schools. Other times, they’re charter public schools. Often they’re called academies. But here’s something you might not know: charter schools are public schools, which means, like every public school in Michigan, they are tuition-free.

“Charter schools are tuition-free, the same as any other school, and they are open to anyone. But people sometimes still have the misconception that charter schools charge tuition,” says Buddy Moorehouse, Vice President of Public Relations at MAPSA, Michigan’s Charter School Association.

Charter schools provide a unique approach to education…

All public schools are designed to meet the general learning needs of most students. But for children who thrive with a unique approach to learning — a Montessori curriculum, project-based learning or college preparatory, for instance — Michigan charter schools offer a unique alternative. Charter schools can’t duplicate what’s already being offered through traditional public schools within a specific community, Moorehouse says. “A charter school can only be located in a community if there is a defined need for that educational opportunity,” he says. There are some great examples of charter schools across Michigan where children can immerse in an arts- or STEM-based curriculum, even achieve robust educational standards through a culturally responsive education. “Quite simply, charter public schools give students and families a potential choice in their community that can better fit their needs, whether that’s academically, socially, or even just a safer option,” says Michael Cousins, Manager of Communications with GVSU Charter Schools Office. “Maybe a charter school has a curriculum that aligns with a student’s passion and can help that student reach their career goals more quickly. If college is your dream, why not come to a school that is focused on helping you reach that dream?”

…while meeting the same educational standards as traditional public schools

Michigan charter schools are held to the same high academic standards as traditional public schools and follow the Common Core standards, though they may reach them in a more flexible or unique way. “Every charter school has to take the same tests and follow the same core curriculum as everyone else,” Moorehouse explains. “But they can do it in a creative way.”

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Charter schools are open to all

While some highly specific traditional public schools can impose criteria on their students — essays or applications, for example, to gain entry into a talented and gifted or international program — Michigan charter schools are open to all. Even if the school is designed to provide education to students who have experienced trauma or difficult life circumstances, all students are welcome to enroll and attend the school. Families are not even required to live in a particular ZIP code or geographic area. “It’s important to remember that enrollment is open to any family,” Cousins explains. “There are no testing barriers you might experience at other traditional public schools or private schools. If you want your child to attend a specific charter school, enroll when you are ready.”

Charter schools have authorizers — GVSU is the largest

By design, charter schools must be authorized by a state college, university, intermediate school district or local public school district. “For the most part, they are authorized by a university,” says Moorehouse. “This connection gives the schools access to resources that will help them tremendously.”

With 80 schools, GVSU is the largest charter school authorizer in Michigan. Most GVSU charter schools are located in metro Detroit and Grand Rapids, but there are others across the state, too. GVSU supports all of its charter schools with a wide variety of resources, from programmatic support to university-level knowledge and tuition reimbursement for GVSU charter school teachers to pursue higher education.

Some students at GVSU charter schools even get their first experiences learning what college life is like through visits to the GVSU campus. “That connection to the university can be individualized for the school,” Cousins says. “The core function of an authorizer is to make sure schools meet the goals in their charter contract, but at GVSU we also see ourselves as partners who find solutions in the moment and are ahead of the game to help schools feel supported so they can improve teaching and learning and the whole educational environment.”

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The GVSU Charter Schools Office is an accredited charter school authorizer that furthers furthers GVSU’s commitment to quality education by empowering community leaders with the ability to establish new innovative, high-performing K-12 public schools for kids. Schools within GVSU’s portfolio receive access to professional learning opportunities, school and governance support, and graduate education scholarship programs that they typically could not attain on their own.