charter schools in michigan

Last Updated on August 28, 2023

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charter schools in michigan

What Is A Charter School?

Charter schools are public schools. They operate in much the same way as traditional public schools. They are free, open to all, and operate under the direction of a publically-appointed board of directors. Charter schools are constituent districts of Michigan’s intermediate school districts (ISDs) and operate under the leadership of the State Board of Education. They must comply with essentially the same statutory and regulatory requirements as other k-12 public schools, including No Child Left Behind and Education Yes! accountability programs and special education laws. While each charter school is unique based on location, teaching staff, student population, educational program and curricula, each is legally organized as a Michigan, not-for-profit, public school academy corporation, governed by a board of directors.

Michigan’s charter school law was passed in 1993. It introduced choice and competition into the system of public education. Guiding principles of the statute are (1) all students and parents, regardless of socioeconomic status or geographic location, should have the ability to choose the school that best meets their needs; (2) charter public schools support education reform by infusing the system with competition and market forces; and (3) charter public schools can test new approaches to academics, instruction, governance, finance, and management leading to new learning and leadership models. The state’s charter school law is consistently recognized as one of the nation’s strongest.

The system of oversight established by the legislation is both distinct from and complementary to conventional education structures. The charter school must have a valid legal contract, or charter, from its authorizer, which provides an additional level of accountability. A series of academic and operational performance measures must be met to continue the contract.

Balanced Leadership for Lasting Change. (2006). Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers & Dykema Gossett PLLC.

LSSU Charter Applications

At this time, the LSSU Charter Schools Office is currently not accepting applications for new charter schools.

LSSU Charter Schools

  • LSSU Charter Schools Map
  • Advanced Technology Academy
  • American International Academy
  • Bay City Academy
  • Charlton Heston Academy
  • Concord Academy Boyne
  • Concord Academy of Petoskey – a School of Excellence
  • DeTour Arts and Technology Academy
  • Detroit Service Learning Academy – a School of Excellence
  • Grand Traverse Academy
  • iCademy Global
  • Innocademy
  • Innocademy Allegan Academy
  • Macomb Montessori Academy
  • Momentum Academy
  • Regent Park Scholars Charter Academy
  • Ridge Park Charter Academy – a School of Excellence
  • Tipton Academy
  • W-A-Y Academy Detroit
  • W-A-Y Academy of Flint
  • Oakland County Academy of Media & Technology
  • WSC Academy

Right here on Collegelearners, you are privy to a litany of relevant information on best charter schools in michigan, number of charter schools in michigan, list of charter schools in michigan, and so much more. Take out time to visit our catalog for more information on similar topics.

Everything you need to know about Michigan’s charter schools

Updated: Nov. 06, 2019, 12:14 a.m. | Published: Nov. 05, 2019, 9:00 a.m.

Charter school opens with 31 students
Kindergarten teacher Ashley Baldwin works with Sterling Weathers, 5, on a puzzle at Francis Street Primary in August 2018, the same month the charter school opened in Jackson. (J. Scott Park / MLive)J. Scott Park
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353sharesBy Julie Mack | special to MLive

Copper Harbor, located at the northern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, has only a handful of school-age children and is almost a three-hour drive from the nearest charter school in Marquette.

But two of the 11 elementary students in the community were enrolled in charter schools last year — both in cyber academies based in the Lower Peninsula.

Twenty-five years after Michigan opened its first public school academy, charters accounted for 10% of the state’s public school enrollment in fall 2018 — almost 147,000 students.

While 38 of Michigan’s 83 counties lack a charter school within its borders, the recent proliferation of online programs means that every single Michigan county had residents enrolled in charters in 2018.

Yet charter schools — publicly funded independent academies — remain a controversial topic in education circles.

Supporters say they provide much-needed options in public education. They say charters can be more innovative since their teachers aren’t unionized, and charters are uniquely positioned to offer specialized curriculums and serve niche populations.

Detractors say charter expansion doesn’t make fiscal sense at a time when a declining birth rate means more schools are competing for fewer students every year.

They also say that charters have had a mediocre track record academically, and that fact so many Michigan charter schools are for-profit enterprises pulls dollars out of the classroom.

This post takes a deep dive into the state’s data on charter schools, starting with a thumbnail profile of the state’s 370 charter schools in 2018-19.

Charter school 2018-19 enrollment, demographic profile

This online database includes enrollment, grade levels served, percentage of students who qualify for subsidized lunch, percentage who are minorities, and the spring 2019 passage rate on state assessment tests.

In the latter category, the number shown is the “percent of students proficient in all subjects on state tests.” Also shown is the average for schools with similar characteristics, an analysis done by the state for its online “parent’s dashboard.”

You can search by county or type in the name of a charter school.

County– All countiesAlleganAntrimBayBerrienBranchCalhounCharlevoixChippewaClintonEatonEmmetGeneseeGrand TraverseHillsdaleInghamIoscoIsabellaJacksonKalamazooKentLapeerLeelanauLivingstonMackinacMacombManisteeMarquetteMasonMecostaMenomineeMidlandMonroeMontcalmMuskegonOaklandOgemawOttawaPresque IsleRoscommonSaginawSt. ClairVan BurenWashtenawWayneWexfordSchool


You can click on “details” to see the racial/ethnic breakdown of the school population in 2018-19. If you click on a county without specifying a school, you can compare the charters in that county.

About the test scores

When it comes to assessment test scores and academic outcomes, Michigan’s charter schools are a mixed bag — as indicated by the latest round of state assessment tests.

About 56% of charters had a lower overall passage rate than schools with similar characteristics. That compares to 41% of charters that outperformed their comparison group. For the remaining 3%, there was no difference in passage rates.

You can use the database below to see how each charter school fared compared to their comparison group.

County– All countiesAlleganAntrimBayBerrienBranchCalhounCharlevoixChippewaClintonEatonEmmetGeneseeGrand TraverseHillsdaleInghamIoscoIsabellaJacksonKalamazooKentLapeerLeelanauLivingstonMackinacMacombManisteeMarquetteMasonMecostaMenomineeMidlandMonroeMontcalmMuskegonOaklandOgemawOttawaPresque IsleRoscommonSaginawSt. ClairVan BurenWashtenawWayneWexfordSchool


Once again, the numbers come from spring 2019 assessment tests; the passage rate is the average for all state assessment tests, and the “similar schools” were picked by the state. You can look at the state’s website to see the specific schools used for comparison.

Blank spaces indicate that the data was not available.

Here’s a link to 2019 state assessment test results for all districts.

The number of charter students has increased by 35% since 2009-10.

In the past decade, the number of charter school students state has grown statewide by 35%. Most of that increase occurred after 2011, when then-Gov. Rick Snyder and the Michigan Legislature lifted a longtime cap on the number of charter schools.

Between fall 2009 and fall 2018, charter enrollment increased 21% in Wayne County, 81% in Kent County and 65% in Washtenaw County.

Manistee County had only 104 charter school students in 2009-10. Last year, it had almost 3,000, thanks to Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy, a cyber school that enrolls students from across the state.

Most charter students are minorities and/or from low-income households.

A quarter century ago, the fear was that charters would “cream” more affluent children in the public-school systems. Instead, charters serve a disproportionate number of students would be considered at-risk of academic struggles.

In 2018-19, 75% of charter students were enrolled in the subsidized lunch program compares to a state average of 50% for all public-school students.

In regards to race, 67% of charter students are minorities compares to a state average of 34%.

The chart below shows the racial composition of Michigan’s total public school population compared to those enrolled in charter schools.

Charter enrollment by race in Michigan
About 50% of Michigan charter school students in 2018-19 were African-American, 33% were white, 10% were Hispanic and 7% were Asian, Native Americans or mixed race. (Source: Michigan Center for Educational Performance and Information)

Metro Detroit accounts for 59% of the charter school population.

Almost half of Michigan’s charter students live in Wayne County, and the metro Detroit area — Wayne, Oakland and Macomb — have 59% of the charter students.

This interactive map shows where charter students live, based on their school district of residence.

The next interactive map shows where charter students are enrolled, based on the county where their charter school is located. Michigan has 38 counties with no charter schools; those counties are shaded in gray.

(Remember that cyber schools can distort the number in northern Michigan, where online programs in Manistee and Wexford enroll students from across the state.)

Incidentally, if you click on a county, you compare charter enrollment in 2009-19 compared to 2018-19.

Detroit school district has the largest percentage in charters

About 47% of public schoolchildren who live in Detroit attend a charter school, the highest percentage in the state.

Also in the top five: Hamtramck (42%), DeTour in the U.P. (42%), Flint (38%) and Dearborn Heights (36%).

The database allows you to see how many students residing in a school district are enrolled in a charter school, based on state data. Also listed are the total number of public school students and the district’s enrollment.

County– All countiesAlconaAlgerAlleganAlpenaAntrimArenacBaragaBarryBayBenzieBerrienBranchCalhounCassCharlevoixCheboyganChippewaClareClintonCrawfordDeltaDickinsonEatonEmmetGenesee GladwinGogebicGrand TraverseGratiotHillsdaleHoughtonHuronInghamIoniaIosco IronIsabellaJacksonKalamazoo KalkaskaKentKeweenawLakeLapeer LeelanauLenaweeLivingston LuceMackinacMacombManistee MarquetteMasonMecostaMenomineeMidland Missaukee Monroe Montcalm MontmorencyMortmorencyMuskegon NewaygoOakland OceanaOgemawOntonagonOsceolaOscodaOtsegoOttawaPresque Isle RoscommonSaginawSanilac SchoolcraftShiawassee St. ClairSt. Joseph TuscolaVan BurenWashtenaw WayneWexfordDistrict


Note that in some districts, enrollment exceeds the number of resident students because of Schools of Choice, which allows districts to enroll nonresident students.

Charter school financing

The financing of charter schools remains a hot topic, particularly since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed a 2019-20 funding increase for charters.

New prison tree trimming program

Whitmer veto axes $35M per-pupil increase for charter schools

The charter school aid was among 147 items Gov. Whitmer vetoed from the Michigan State budget.

This school year, traditional districts are guaranteed at least $8,111 per student compared to $7,871 for charter schools.

This is the first time the state has set a lower minimum foundation grant for charters compared to traditional districts. But charters have long averaged lower revenues and expenditures.

In 2017-18, the most recent financial data available, Michigan charter schools averaged $9,560 in total operating revenues per student compared to $10,097 for all districts.

On the expenditure side that year, charters spent an average of $8,946 per student compared to $10,213 for all districts, based on their operating budgets.

However, the financing of charters and traditional district is somewhat of an apples-and-oranges comparison.

For instance, traditional school districts can levy millages and issue bonds for capital expenses, such as construction of new schools and building repairs. Charters must pay for building costs from their operational budget.

That’s a big downside for charters, but there are several other areas where charters have the financial advantage. For instance, many charters do not offer bus transportation for students, and charters also are more likely to be K-8 schools or specialty high schools that do not offer the range of extracurriculars available in traditional high schools.

In addition, charters have significantly fewer special-education students, who tend to be more expensive to educate. In 2018-19, charters comprised 10% of the state’s full-time-equivalent students but only 3% of FTE special-ed students.

Another huge factor that skews the numbers is difference in retirement costs.

Traditional school districts make a mandatory payment to the Michigan Public School Employees Retirement System based on their payroll. Because charter employees are not part of MPSERS, charter schools are exempt from those costs, which are considerable. Although the state has scaled back retirement benefits for new school employees, districts still need to support current retirees in the state system.

In 2017-18, an average of 22% of traditional districts’ operating budgets went to retirement costs, which translated to $2,217 per student. (That number includes districts’ share of Social Security.)

Average retirement costs for charters is unknown because they don’t have to report that information, but since charter employees aren’t unionized, they generally have lower pay and less-generous benefit packages than staff at traditional districts.

The MPSERS costs help explain why traditional districts have higher expenditures and revenues than charters. Not only are the districts paying the MPSERS contribution, but the state gives monies to traditional districts to offset those costs. In 2017-18, that payment averaged $737 per student.

Below is a breakdown of how charters spent their operating budgets in 2017-18 compared to the statewide average.

Charter school spending in Michigan
Michigan charter schools spent an average of $8,946 per student in 2017-18 compared to an average of $10,213 per student for all districts. (Source: Center for Educational Performance and Information)

The chart shows that charters spent less on instruction, which is essentially the cost of teachers, teacher aides and other costs in the classroom. Costs for instructional support — cost of pupil support services, such as speech therapists, guidance counselors, school nurses, and curriculum specialists — were about the same.

Charters spent a bigger percentage of their budget on administration and business services, and building operations and maintenance. The latter results from the fact that charters cannot levy millages or issue bonds, as can traditional districts.

The higher costs for administration and business functions results from the fact that charters tend to be smaller programs with less economy of scale; they pay 3% of their operating costs to their charter institution, and many charters in Michigan are for-profit operations.

Below is an online database that provides the revenue and expenditure numbers for every Michigan public school district and charter school, based on the state’s most recent Bulletin 1014.

You can click on a county to see a ranking of all the districts and charters in that region based on revenues.

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