You’re seeking a new school for your child and are ready to make the move. Or maybe your child is ready for kindergarten and it’s time to enroll in school. Perhaps you’re just in the early stages of making your school search. No matter your current situation, eventually you will need to know how to enroll your child in school.
If you’ve selected a charter public school — either for its unique method of teaching or its specialized approach — that’s great. Here’s the good news: the process of enrolling your child in a charter school is not too different from enrolling your child in your local public school district.
Still weighing your options? Take some time to learn more about charter schools and what they offer to children and families. You’ll find that charter schools widen your options and provide access to more choices. They also offer a unique approach to education that may be just the right learning environment for your child.
Janelle Brzezinski, Director of Communications at The Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University and Michael Cousins, Assistant Director of Communications and External Affairs with Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office (GVSU CSO), offer some examples of how charter public schools are offering innovative opportunities.
A lot to know about charter schools
“Some charter schools are specifically focused on art, and have art infused into the curriculum. Teachers are highly skilled at integrating arts into the core studies by using dance, music, drawing, and design to supplement and advance knowledge,” Cousins says. “This really meets the needs of kids who love art.”
Art-focused education is just one example of how charter public schools can provide unique, innovative quality education to kids.
Some charter schools follow the Montessori educational model, others focus on project-based learning and some even utilize their geographic location — the Michigan shoreline, for example — as an “outdoor classroom” to study the environment. Other charter schools provide trauma-informed instruction or help students who have previously struggled to recover credits to earn a high school diploma.
“STEM schools and college prep schools can focus on a very specific population of students who have specific goals for their education. In these cases, charter public schools are providing something that aligns with their students’ individual needs and interests,” Cousins says.
“Charter schools stem from a need in a community and are community-driven. The unique models allow students to find a perfect fit for their needs,” adds Brzezinski. “Innovation allows charter schools to set students up for success in post-secondary education, careers and beyond.”
Together, GVSU CSO and The Center for Charter Schools at CMU are the two largest authorizers of charter public schools in Michigan. GVSU’s charter schools serve more than 35,000 students in 79 charter schools in communities across Michigan, while CMU supports 70 schools and 29,000 students in virtually every county in Michigan.
Here’s a quick guide for what you need to know about how to enroll your child in a charter school.
Key things to know about how to enroll in a charter school
It’s a common myth that charter schools require tuition. Charter public schools, like every public school in Michigan, are open to every student, tuition-free. “So many parents don’t realize charter schools are public schools, but they are, and they are free to attend,” Cousins says.
“At a charter school, your child can receive a unique education, the perfect fit for your child, at no cost to you, Brzezinski adds. “You are limited only by what you can dream for your student, from educational format to method of learning.”
Enrollment in a charter school is open to any family, Cousins adds, making charter public schools more accessible than even some specialized public schools, like talented and gifted schools or International Baccalaureate schools that require testing before enrollment.
“There are no testing barriers you might experience at other traditional public schools or at private schools,” Cousins says. “If you want your child to attend a particular charter school, you can apply to that school and enroll when you are ready.”
In addition, there are no geographical barriers to enrollment in a charter school. When you find a school you like, you can enroll in that school, even if it’s in a different city or county from where you reside.
Unlike traditional public schools, there are no charter school “districts.” If you reside in the state of Michigan, your child can attend any Michigan charter school. “You’re not limited by your ZIP code,” Brzezinski says.
Enrollment in a charter school may look a little different from school to school, Cousins says. “Start by talking directly with the school you are interested in,” he suggests. “Get their perspective and connect with their enrollment support specialist.” If you are moving from a different school or school district to a charter school, be sure to take a hands-on approach to the enrollment process to avoid any delays or confusion if the charter school needs a necessary piece of paperwork.
“Schools encourage you to come out and engage. Every school is different, so from the start of the enrollment process, work with the school and learn how your child might thrive in this environment,” says Janelle. If you know it’s a direction you want to head in, do it as early as possible.
“Work directly — and early — with the school as much as possible to answer any questions you may have,” Cousins says.
A seat for your child?
In some — though not all — cases, charter public schools have a limited number of seats available for students. If this is the case, there are some important things to know about securing a place for your child at the school.
“If you enroll at a charter school and there are a lot of applicants but not enough seats, a lottery is held for open seats in order to provide a fair chance. It’s a publicly held lottery conducted by a neutral third party that parents can attend,” Cousins says.
Though it’s tempting to wait until the summer when you can dedicate time to selecting a school, start early in the year to give yourself ample time to make your selection and enroll at the charter school of your choice.
“It might be surprising how early schools start to enroll. If you know you are interested in attending the school, reach out as early as you can,” suggests Brzezinski.
“Start as early as January, February, and March to really make sure you have a great chance in the open enrollment window,” Cousins says.
How charter school authorizers are connected to charter schools
According to Michigan law, every Michigan charter school must be authorized by a state university, community college or an intermediate or local school district. Charter schools cannot be authorized by private colleges or schools.
Authorizers provide their charter schools with an extra layer of oversight as well as access to resources within their educational community. For example, students enrolled in GVSU and CMU charter public schools can spend time on the college campus, learning first-hand what the college experience is all about.
“For many students, this is their first time on a college campus, visiting a residence hall, eating in a cafeteria and really seeing themselves as future college students,” Brzezinski adds. Even at the elementary level, schools might introduce relevant college-focused language to show students what is possible, “and get them dreaming big about college and higher education,” she says.
The value of GVSU and CMU as charter school authorizers is more than just helping charter schools meet their educational goals. These charter schools have access to a vast network of educational support, including continuing education for teachers and administrators.
By joining together professors, teachers, policymakers and communities, GVSU and CMU provide new ways to solve challenges and support students,
“We see ourselves as partners to our charter schools and help them find solutions in the moment so they can best serve their students,” Cousins says.
Find more articles like this at Metro Parent’s Guide to Michigan Charter Schools.