4 Facts About Charter Schools You Need to Know

If you’re searching for just the right school for your child, take time to learn these four facts about charter public schools.

Every parent wants their child to attend the perfect school where they can be challenged academically, learn from great teachers, thrive in a stimulating environment, and be safe and secure. Here in metro Detroit, you have many options for quality schools, and charter public schools should be on your list. We reached out to the largest two authorizers of charter schools in Michigan (organizations that oversee charter schools) to gather some facts to help you make the best school decisions for your child.

Charter schools empower families and offer choice

Charter schools have been around in Michigan for nearly 30 years. They are designed to give families a public education option with different look and feel that also helps kids get great results, says Michael Cousins, Assistant Director of Communications and External Affairs at Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office

“A charter school may focus on environmental sciences, for example, or may be dedicated to the arts and have an art-infused curriculum,” he explains. In fact, charter schools can’t simply duplicate what is offered by traditional public schools locally. They provide a unique alternative — which gives your family choice.

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Students at Michigan Math and Science Academy use coins during a math lesson.

“Charter schools empower families to select the best options for their children,” says Janelle Brzezinski, Director of Communications with The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University. Charter schools can offer students opportunities to learn in specialized environments dedicated to STEM, aviation, visual arts, college prep and many others.

In addition to being governed by a school board, charter schools also have an authorizer, typically a state college or university. The authorizer supports the school and maintains oversight and accountability — an extra layer that ensures academic quality, says Brzezinski.

From an access standpoint, however, there are no differences between charter schools and traditional public schools in Michigan. “Charter schools are free and open to all who are interested in attending and they serve any student who comes through their doors,” Cousins says. “This includes students with special education or additional learning support needs.” About 11% of students at charter schools authorized by Grand Valley State University or Central Michigan University receive special education services, which is similar to the state average.

Charter schools are unique

Who attends charter schools? “All types of kids with countless goals and needs across the state attend charter schools,” says Cousins. “One thing families are all looking for is a great place for their child to learn, and they trust their school to help them reach their goals, whether that’s career prep, college prep, or other unique types of curriculum.”

facts-about-charter-schools-two-students-learn-in-steam-center
Students immerse in hands-on learning in the new STEAM Center at A.G.B.U. Alex and Marie Manoogian School in Southfield. Photo credit: A.G.B.U. Alex and Marie Manoogian School in Southfield.

When families are seeking a specific educational environment for their child, charter schools can often fill that niche. “Everyone has different needs and charter schools offer numerous options to fulfill those needs,” Brzezinski says. “A student might need credit recovery. Or they want an accelerated curriculum, so they can seek out an online environment where they can move through faster. They might be looking for unique extracurricular opportunities or want to attend a school that offers networking connections for career and beyond.”

In some cases, charter schools have longstanding, deep roots in a community. “Many have been around for two decades or more, at the core of their community and driven by community needs,” she adds.

Charter schools meet students’ goals

Because a charter school can provide unique learning opportunities for your child, start by spending time thinking about your own family’s goals. “You want to consider why you are choosing a particular school. What are you looking for? The answers to this question can help lead you to your decision. Each charter school is unique so it helps to learn what each specific school offers,” says Brzezinski.

“Ask what will make your child happy and successful,” suggests Cousins. “Research schools and talk with other parents. Reflect on your own K-12 experience. What did you like and not like? Your needs may be completely different from your child’s needs.” Cousins suggests reading The School Choice Roadmap: 7 Steps to Finding the Right School for your Child, an award-winning book by Andrew Campanella that helps parents find the right school, step by step.

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Students at West Michigan Aviation Academy practice flying a drone during their Unmanned Aerial Systems class.

While school data may be a factor in your own choice, remember that the “best school” is the one where your child will thrive — and that place is different for each kid. “Very often within a family, children will go to different schools. That might mean four kids in four very different schools for very different reasons,” says Brzezinski. “It’s all about what kind of environment will set up your individual child for the most success as they navigate through their education.”

Charter schools are public schools

Charter public schools are free to attend. They do not charge tuition. And, because they are public schools, they meet the same state and federally mandated academic requirements as all public schools in Michigan — and their teachers must have the same certifications required for all public schools.

Just like traditional public schools, charter schools are funded by state and federal dollars, and they provide school choice for families in Michigan. Charter schools are not-for-profit entities with an appointed public school board and extra oversight provided by their authorizer.

Every student is welcome to apply to a charter school. If the number of seats available at a charter school exceeds the number of students, your child will get a place at that school. If the number of students exceeds the number of seats, the school will hold a public lottery to fill those seats.

Most of all, charter schools offer educational opportunities and choices for families in Michigan. “I’m grateful to live in a state that gives us these options, and families proactively choosing charter schools shows they are a quality option,” says Brzezinski. “As a parent, you have a key opportunity to take the lead in knowing what is best for your child.”

Expertise brought to you by Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office and The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.

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