How to Enroll in a Charter School

What you need to know about how to enroll your child in the charter school of your choice. Here, we offer some simple tips to get your child enrolled and on the ideal educational path.

You’re seeking a new school for your child and are ready to make the move. Or maybe you’re just getting started because 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. With regard to enrollment in a charter public school, the good news is that the process 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. Michael Cousins, Manager of Communications with Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office (GVSU CSO), offers some examples of how charter public schools can innovate in ways that traditional public schools can’t.

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,” he 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 recover credits in order 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.

GVSU CSO is the largest authorizer of charter public schools in Michigan. GVSU’s charter schools serve nearly 34,000 students in 80 charter schools in 31 communities across 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. 

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 prior to 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.

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 so you can avoid any delays or confusion if a necessary piece of paperwork is needed by the charter school. 

“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 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. 

“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 GVSU is 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’s charter public schools can spend time on GVSU’s campus, learning first-hand what the college experience is all about. 

The value of GVSU as a charter school authorizer is more than just helping charter schools meet their educational goals. GVSU 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, the GVSU CSO provides new ways to solve challenges and support students, Cousins says. “We see ourselves as partners to our charter schools and help them find solutions in the moment so they can best serve their students.”

Content sponsored by Grand Valley State University Charter Schools Office. Learn more at gvsu.edu/cso.

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