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Criminal trial for Michigan charter school founder set to begin

Feb 9, 2015

The Michigan Department of Education has called it the most serious federal criminal case involving a Michigan charter school since the state gave the green light to charter schools in 1994.

Traverse City optometrist Steven Ingersoll will go on trial tomorrow on seven criminal charges of bank fraud and tax evasion.

Education reporter Chastity Pratt Dawsey wrote an article for Bridge Magazine that explored the charges.

Dawsey says the Traverse City businessman started his first charter school in Traverse City before going on to Bay City to start another charter school and work on real estate development details.

His two charter schools, The Grand Traverse Academy and the Bay City Academy are both managed by his company, Smart Schools, and they each are founded on some of Ingersoll’s ideas about education.

“He’s an optometrist by profession and he developed a theory called integrated visual learning,” Dawsey said. “And essentially, it’s visual therapy, light therapy, mixed with some cognitive methodology and therapies. Really what they’re saying is: better visual thinking leads to better learning.”

Dawsey says Ingersoll has suggested his learning theories have also “assessed and addressed learning disabilities like ADHD.”

Around 2010 or 2011 Ingersoll, Pratt says Ingersoll took out a $1.8 million construction loan to convert a church into the Bay City Academy.

Dawsey says the FBI believes Ingersoll took some of the money he received from that loan and transferred it to his personal bank account before using it to cover expenses from the Grand Traverse Academy.

“Essentially, the feds are saying he robed Peter to pay Paul,” she said.

To hear more about tomorrow’s case, listen above.