More charter schools will open, while some are closing

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Correction: This story has been updated to remove Hinoki International School, which is not opening.

Detroit — Michigan's proliferation of charter schools is easing for the first time in years.

Only seven new charter schools will be opening in the state in the fall — the fewest since the Legislature lifted the cap on university-authorized charters in 2011, the Michigan Association of Public School Academies is announcing Tuesday.

This compares with 17 new charters last year, 32 in 2013, 31 in 2012, 19 in 2011 and 18 in 2010. None of the new charter schools is in Detroit.

According to MAPSA, the state will have 306 charter schools in 2015-16, its highest number ever. Last year's tally was 302, according to the state, and some of those schools are closing.

Since 2000, the number of charter schools in Michigan and their enrollment has more than doubled, reaching 141,094 in 2014-15, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

As charters expanded, enrollment dropped at traditional public schools, pushing more districts into financial trouble. That sparked calls to curb new charter schools.

In March, then-state Superintendent Mike Flanagan, urged a moratorium on charter school openings in Detroit and other struggling districts to stabilize enrollment.

Charter school advocates pushed back, saying new limits weren't needed.

"In our view, this is proof we were right — just one year after all these people were saying the system is out of control, we're seeing a record low number of new schools opening," said Buddy Moorehouse, a MAPSA spokesman.

Dan Quisenberry, the group's president, said charter authorizers are opening fewer schools to match supply with demand and ensure quality.

"The fact that we're seeing so few new schools this year only means the authorizers are doing their job," he said. "They respond to community need, and they haven't bowed to any public or political pressure."

But other education observers think the calls for restraint did influence charter authorizers.

"I do think the additional scrutiny has a lot to do with it — especially with the oversaturation in some locales and the decrease in the number of student populations overall," said Tonya Allen, president and CEO of the Skillman Foundation, and co-chair of a coalition that proposed a far-reaching overhaul of Detroit's public education system last spring.

"I think it's great," Allen said. "We need to be more diligent about opening schools where they're needed, and only the highest quality schools so we can set the pace for both charter and traditional schools."

Sarah Lenhoff, director of policy and research for the Education Trust-Midwest, a Royal Oak-based think tank, said the state's declining population of school-age children has little to do with the low number of new charter schools this year.

"Only about 10 percent of Michigan school-age children attend a charter school, so (that) seems unlikely," said Lenhoff. "More likely, public scrutiny has brought scrutiny — and they may be self-policing in the short run. In the long run, leading education states show authorizers need to be held accountable. Michigan fails to do that."

Bob Floden, director of the Institute for Research on Teaching and Learning at Michigan State University, said multiple factors may be responsible for the drop in new charters.

"It's more likely to be the push from Flanagan for the authorizers to take their oversight role more seriously," he said. "It may be that demand is leveling off because most parents with an interest in switching to a charter now have enough charter options available."

Floden added: "It is good to see that supply of charter slots now seems to be roughly meeting demand. Now (the) focus of the charter movement can switch to improving the quality of education in existing schools."

Steve Conn, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, cheered the lack of new charters in the city, which has 50 schools.

"Charters are getting cold feet because it's clear that the people of Michigan are standing up to them," he said.

Quisenberry said this fall's new charters offer children and parents a variety of options, especially in Metro Detroit.

"The good news for parents is that they're going to have a few more choices this fall when it comes to finding the right school for their child," he said. "We're going to see a new teacher-led high school in Plymouth, a Montessori school in Livingston County and a school in Oak Park that has an international focus. That's exciting."

Stella Perri, 6, of Brighton will enter the first grade in the fall at Light of the World Academy, the Montessori charter school in Pinckney authorized by Grand Valley State University. Her mom, Maria Perri, said Stella already completed preschool and kindergarten at the school when it was private.

"We wanted her to have the Montessori experience, which comes with a hefty price tag, so the fact that the school now is a charter and is free, is a nice bonus," said Perri. "She likes a challenge and is able to work at her own pace, so leaving her here will help her continue to thrive and become a future leader."

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New charter schools for 2015-2016:

Augusta (Kalamazoo area)

Augusta Academy. Part of the successful Foundation for Behavioral Resources network of schools, Augusta Academy will open as a K-2 school, and will eventually expand to grades K-5. Authorized by Grand Valley State University.

Clinton Township

Great Lakes Anchor Academy. A school with a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) curriculum and a maritime focus, Great Lakes Anchor Academy will start as a grades 5-10 school, and will add a grade every year until it's grades 5-12. Authorized by Ferris State University.


Eagle's Nest Academy. A K-3 school when it opens, Eagle's Nest Academy will eventually expand to grades K-5. The school has a partnership with the acclaimed High Scope Educational Research Foundation. Authorized by Grand Valley State University.

Oak Park

Frederick Douglass International Academy. A K-6 school, Frederick Douglass International Academy will be part of the network of schools managed by the Hanley-Harper Group. The school has a global focus and will work with a sister school in Krakow, Poland. Authorized by Ferris State University.

Pinckney (Livingston County)

Light of the World Academy. A Montessori school serving grades K-6 when it opens, Light of the World Academy will add a grade every year until it's a K-8 school. The school has been successfully operating since 2002 as a private Montessori school, but will reopen this fall as a public charter school. Authorized by Grand Valley State University.


New School High. This will be a unique teacher-led high school opening with grades 9-10. It will add a grade each year until it's a full 9-12 high school. Authorized by Central Michigan University.