The Center for Education Reform ranks Michigan fourth among the 43 states with charter schools for strength of charter school laws in 2013.
Key factors in the CER report include number of schools, number of independent authorizers, waivers and legal autonomy, full funding and fiscal autonomy. The District of Columbia, Minnesota and Indiana rank in the top three states, while Arizona rounds out the top five.
An increase in virtual charter schools and university authorizers are slated for the future. The state will allow three new cyber charter schools to open as of April 1, which will bring its total to five. A cyber or virtual school is an institution in which its students take classes extensively or primarily online, either independently or taught by a professor.
Cynthia Schumacher, executive director for The Governor John Engler Center for Charter Schools at Central Michigan University, said the advance is intriguing.
“While nobody is arguing that online learning will replace traditional brick and mortar school buildings, the concept of blended or hybrid learning, which is a combination of face-to-face instruction and online learning, is an exciting development,” Schumacher said.
Michigan will be permitted up to 15 virtual schools as of March 2013, limiting enrollment to 2,500 students, according to the CER report. The total enrollment limit will improve to 5,000 in 2014 and 10,000 in 2015.
In cyber school, 100 percent of content is delivered via the Internet, Schumacher said. In cyber charter schools, there must be a learning coach in the home to assist the students.
“(Cyber schools) are an option for those who prefer to or have a need to learn and progress at their own pace,” she said. “This type of flexibility is very consistent with Gov. (Rick) Snyder’s call for ‘any time, any place, any way and at any pace’ learning in Michigan.”
Despite the increase in potential virtual charter schools, Schumacher said she doesn’t expect the maximum number of virtual schools to open.
“The total enrollment of all cyber charter schools cannot exceed 30,000 students, so it is unlikely that more than a handful of cyber charter schools will actually be opened,” Schumacher said.
As authorizers, universities are responsible for monitoring the actions of their charter public schools and serve as the fiscal agent to receive and forward payments to their schools.
The cap on university authorizers was 300 in 2012 and will improve to 500 in 2014. There is no cap set for 2015.
“The gradual elimination of the cap on university authorized charter schools means we can authorize new schools to meet the strong demand from parents all over the state,” Schumacher said.
CMU ranks third among university authorizers in Michigan based on performance, behind Grand Valley State University and Lake Superior State University.
As of 2013, the state of Michigan ranks sixth with 332 charter schools behind California, Florida, Arizona, Texas and Ohio.
Michigan ranked 15th in the nation in strength of charter school laws according to a recent study by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The ranking comes one year after being listed 10th by the same study.
While the raised authorizer cap will allow CMU more schools in its portfolio in the coming years, Schumacher said it will not lose focus on quality and innovation.
“The existence of additional competition is meant to both improve quality and meet student needs, and we’re very supportive of this in public education,” she said.