charter schools

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio


Today is Count Day here in Michigan. That's when every student sitting at his or her desk translates into state dollars for that district.

Across the state, schools are using a variety of tactics to ensure maximum attendance, including robocalls to parents, picture days and prizes for kids who turn up to school.

Getting a cyber charter was the only way Livingston Classical Academy could finally open its doors.
Andy Simonds/Flickr

Technically, Livingston Classical Academy is a "cyber school."

In reality, though, the only class that will be online this year is health – which parents will be encouraged to participate in for the more “sensitive discussions.”

A few more online classes will be added next year, like career readiness and nutrition.

A new charter school in Whitmore Lake offers a "classical education" and a Hillsdale College connection
Brett Levin / Creative Commons

When you think Hillsdale College, maybe you think private, well-respected school that makes a lot of Top 10 lists for “Most Conservative Schools.”

Now, Hillsdale is using its brand to help launch a public charter school in Michigan, but the school’s founders are trying to prove to its critics that this new school is neither biased, nor religious.

"Black people don't necessarily need choice, they need power," Perry told us. "The reason why black communities' schools are not doing well is because black communities are not doing well."
Flickr user Bart Everson/Flickr /

Proponents of publicly funded, privately run charter schools hail them as the way to keep public schools and public school teachers "on their toes" by creating competition. 

Here in Michigan we have roughly 145,000 students in more than 300 charter schools, according to Education Trust Midwest.

And a report that group released earlier this year showed that charter school enrollment in the 2014-2015 school year consisted of disproportionately minority and low-income students. 

A new charter school in Whitmore Lake offers a "classical education" and a Hillsdale College connection
Brett Levin / Creative Commons

Tregan Bradley, a rising senior at University YES Academy in Detroit, had been hearing rumors from his teachers over the summer.

“One of my favorite teachers, she told me that they’re not sure if they’re going to be opening up the high school, like around July or June,” he says. “I called her, I was checking in with her, because I was missing her and stuff.”

The 2016 M-STEP results come out Tuesday morning

This is an unusually slow year for new charter schools, according to the state charter association, which says the seven charters opening this fall are “among the fewest in history.”

“Only six schools opened last year,” the Michigan Association of Public Schools Academies said in its release today. “That was the fewest since 2008, when seven schools opened under the charter cap. (The cap on university-authorized schools was lifted by the Legislature and Governor Snyder in 2011.)”

Allen Academy is unimstakably a former Catholic church.
Allen Academy / via Facebook

How do you decide if a so-called “failing” school should shut down, and is there a right way to do it?

Three Detroit charter schools shut their doors forever at the end of this school year.

One of them, Allen Academy, was one of the city’s very first charters. And its closure leaves a wake of upheaval.

"The kids are going to be better off"

The ornate, red-brick complex on Detroit’s west side is unmistakably an old Catholic church.

The Saint Theresa of Avila parish closed in the 1980s. Since 1999, it’s been Allen Academy.

The former Carstens Elementary School building, on Detroit's east side, is one of many, many schools that have been shuttered in Detroit.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Three Detroit charter schools are closing and two are merging this year, adding to the school turnover and churn families in that city are seeing.

One of the larger charters, Allen Academy, is being shut down because of poor academic performance.

“The test scores over the last several years, they’ve been outperformed by the resident district, Detroit Public Schools,” says Ron Rizzo, director of the Charter Schools Office at Ferris State University, which authorized Allen Academy.

Gov. Rick Snyder


Governor Rick Snyder has signed an education budget for the coming fiscal year. But there are questions about a provision that will send $2.5 million to private and religious schools for state mandates such as fire drills. The provision could run against a section of the state constitution that says no public money can be used to support private or parochial schools.

Snyder acknowledged there may be legal issues with the budget. “But at this point, I thought it appropriate to move ahead and let’s address the legal questions separately,” Snyder said.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan with students at the Detroit Promise Zone scholarship announcement.
Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is making a final push for a larger role in the city’s education landscape.

Duggan stood alongside some charter school operators and Detroit Public Schools officials Tuesday, in support of a Detroit Education Commission.

That commission is being debated in Lansing as part of a larger, bankruptcy-style restructuring for Detroit Public Schools, which needs hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid if it’s to open doors in the fall.

Auchter's Art: Tough to be a Michigander

May 27, 2016
John Auchter /


How much do I like beer? Well, I can tell you this: My wife and I recently traded a large and well-maintained trampoline for a single 12 ounce bottle of Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Those who know me would likely say that was out of character. (Not the trading things for alcohol — that actually is in my wheelhouse.) No, I'm talking about the deep appreciation for something like Founders KBS — a high-end, critically praised consumable. I'm really more of a eat-because-I'm-hungry, water-from-the-faucet, breakfast-cereal-for-dinner kind of guy.

There is no agreement at the state Capitol about how to fix Detroit’s schools and time is growing short as the possibility of a default looms. But, it’s not Republicans versus Democrats on this one. This is a showdown between Republicans.

“When we defer [capital expenditure] or investment in a school district, we’re knowingly ensuring that our students won’t keep up with their peers across the state or the country or the world,” Saunders said.
wikimedia user motown31 /

Michigan's Schools of Choice program is now 20 years old.

In some parts of the state, the competition for students can be intense. Public school districts put up yard signs, families are sometimes offered gifts to sign up for a school out of district, and the number of publicly funded, privately run charter schools has increased.

Apple with books
Creative Commons

A new report out today from Education Trust-Midwest says some charter school authorizers in Michigan aren't doing their jobs very well.

The report says some of the entities that open and oversee charter schools have made marginal improvements overall, but performance remains low when compared to leading education states.

Survey: Detroiters want more school choice

Nov 4, 2015
From a Detroit classroom
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Seventy five percent of Detroiters think Detroit parents need more school choices for their children.

That's according to a recent poll of 600 Detroit residents, nearly half of whom are parents of school-aged children. It was commissioned by the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which represents charter schools.

Well, the weekend is almost here, and here’s a radical idea to consider between football games. I think the time has come to get rid of charter schools.

That’s right – get rid of them, all of them. Many or most of them don’t work, and all of them are draining resources from our conventional public schools and helping further destabilize education.

Ryan Stanton / Flickr Creative Commons /

UPDATED: 8:35 am on 10/22/2015 The federal government paid at least $1.7 million to 25 Michigan charter schools  that never opened, according to a report released this week by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD).

The Wisconsin-based media group "conducts in-depth investigations into corruption and the undue influence of corporations on media and democracy," according to their website.

Henrico Prins / flickr

A charter high school in west Michigan now has two airplanes for students to use to learn to fly.

A contribution from the Delta Air Lines Foundation allowed the school to buy a Cessna 172.

“My first flight was actually in the new plane. 

moare / MorgueFile

Michigan expects there will be a shortage of teachers in certain subjects this school year. Early childhood, special education, foreign language and a variety of occupational teachers are facing a “critical” shortage.

New charter school to focus on Chaldean heritage

Aug 5, 2015
flickr user Motown31 /

A new charter school in Madison Heights hopes to preserve Chaldean heritage. 

Keys Grace Academy will be open to any student, but school officials expect most to be Chaldean. It will serve children from pre-kindergarden through high school. 

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

A tiny public school district in northwest Michigan has found an unusual way to raise big money.

Manistee Area Public Schools has had its share of budget problems. 

“Several years ago we were very, very low on our fund balance,” Kenn Cott, the assistant principal of Manistee High School/Middle School explained.

Fewer charter schools opening in Michigan this fall

Jul 15, 2015
BarbaraLN / Creative Commons

The Michigan Association of Public School Academies says only seven new charter schools are opening for the 2015-16 school year.

That's down from 17 new charters that opened last year, and 32 in 2013.

Dan Quisenberry, president of MAPSA, said there's been a steady decline since state lawmakers voted to lift the cap on university-authorized charters in 2011.

The drop, he said, is a sign the state's authorization system is working.

Detroit charter school teachers working to unionize

Apr 15, 2015
Liza Lagman Sperl / Flickr

Teachers at three charter school districts in Detroit could vote as early as next month on whether to unionize.

Teachers at University YES, University Prep Academy and University Prep Science and Math have filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board to be represented by the Michigan Alliance of Charter Teachers & Staff (ACTS). ACTS is a union local affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

user Wonderlane / Flickr

There's wide agreement among education experts that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in how students do in school.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Student enrollment at Muskegon Heights has been declining since the 2009-10 school year.

Five years ago, student enrollment at Muskegon Heights schools was double what it is now. But for the first time since 2009, student enrollment was stable this year. Technically, enrollment was up 5 students.

Mercedes Mejia / Michigan Radio

Michigan charter school authorizers are trying to come up with independent ways to evaluate themselves.

Authorizers help create charter schools and are supposed to hold them accountable. They’ve been under a lot of scrutiny lately.

MichigansChildren / YouTube

State Superintendent Mike Flanagan says seven charter school authorizers in Michigan are no longer at risk of suspension. Charter school authorizers help create charter schools and are supposed to hold them accountable.

But last summer Flangan warned 11 charter authorizers they were at risk of being prevented from opening new schools until they did a better job holding their existing schools accountable. /

This week, Jack Lessenberry and Zoe Clark discuss legislation that would allow faith-based adoption agencies to refuse service to LGBT couples, State Superintendent Mike Flanagan’s call for a moratorium on charter school expansion, and Candice Miller’s announcement that she won’t seek reelection.

What's the most memorable thing a teacher has said to you?

Mar 2, 2015
Wikipedia / National Archives & Records Administration

Most of us can remember an influential teacher, or a significant moment we had with a former teacher.

Whether they were words of advice or words that put you in your place, these teachable moments can ring in your ears from school days gone by. 

Chatfield School

UPDATE: A pro-charter group says the methodology used in the Education Trust-Midwest report is deeply flawed.  A link to The Center for Education Reform's critique is included at the bottom of this article.

When Michigan's charter school experiment began 21 years ago, the hope was charters would be better than traditional public schools.

"The majority of them are actually not delivering on that promise," claims Amber Arellano of Education Trust-Midwest, a Kellogg Foundation-funded non-profit that says it is non-partisan, and "agnostic" on the question of who operates schools.