Charter Schools Movement State Timeline
"Michigan’s charter schools have endured and succeeded, defying naysayers and opponents. It’s no longer about the type of school — charter public or traditional public. It’s about creating 21st century schools that will prepare our children for a strong future in a global economy.”
- Dan Quisenberry | President of MAPSA
For more than 25 years, Michigan's story of fostering the charter idea has had its ups and downs while consistently growing to meet the needs of students, families and educators. Many men and women have contributed to ensuring this educational choice and opportunity is available. From Governor John Engler's leadership to today's innovation occurring at nearly 300 schools, we are pleased to share this timeline of the charter schools movement in Michigan.
The driving force for educational change at the start of the 1990s was Governor John Engler, who saw early promise in charter schools as they were initiated in states like Minnesota, and who rallied support from Michigan’s Republican-led Senate and an evenly divided state House of Representatives.
October 5, 1993: Governor John Engler proposed a number of school reforms, including the creation of charter schools, in a speech before a joint session of the Michigan Legislature.
December 3, 1993: a bill to create Part 6a of the Revised School Code—Michigan’s main charter school law—was passed by the Legislature. This bill allowed state public universities, community colleges, intermediate school districts, and local school districts to charter public school academies.
Engler’s first step was the establishment of a law that allowed students to choose the school they would attend. Dick Posthumus, who was the Senate Majority Leader in 1993 and later became Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor, recalled that the first test was the simple idea of giving parents and students a choice.
Like most Majority Leaders, Posthumus sponsored very few bills himself. But he sponsored Senate Bill 896, which created Michigan’s charter school law, because he felt strongly about the power it afforded students and families.
January 14, 1994: Governor John Engler signed the charter schools legislation into law, and Michigan became the 9th state to enact a charter law.
March 1994: “Proposal A” was approved by Michigan electors, radically changing how Michigan funded its public schools. Most notably, it shifted the responsibility from local funding sources to state sources, and established a per-pupil “foundation allowance” for every student. This financial policy shift made it possible for choice to occur.
July 1994: Central Michigan University’s Board of Trustees adopted its initial chartering policies and authorized President Leonard Plachta to enter into contract negotiations with five schools that applied for a charter.
August 1994: CMU became the first authorizer in the state, and the first university in the nation, to charter a public school when its first three schools opened - Casa Maria Academy, Detroit; New Branches School, Grand Rapids; and Northlane Math and Science Academy, Freeland.
Fall 1994: Michigan saw the opening of its first nine charter schools:
- Aisha Shule, Detroit
- Caledonia Charter Academy, Caledonia
- Casa Maria Academy, Detroit
- Horizons High School, Wyoming
- Macomb Academy, Clinton Township
- New Branches School, Grand Rapids
- Northlane Math and Science Academy, Freeland
- West Michigan Academy for Environmental Science, Grand Rapids
- Windover High School, Midland
October 31, 1994: In its cover story entitled “New Hope for Public Schools,” Time magazine put 7-year-old Michigan charter school student Zachary Leipham, from West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science, on its cover.
November 1, 1994: After a group of charter school opponents challenged the constitutionality of the newly established charter school law, the Ingham County Circuit Court ruled the newly enacted law was unconstitutional. This decision was appealed.
The MEA was among the leading detractors who quickly lined up to argue that the charter effort should not be allowed and would never succeed. They charged that charter schools were really private schools operated with public dollars. They said minorities and at-risk students would be left out of the opportunity. They said inner city kids would not see any of the benefits.
The law was officially challenged in 1994, in a lawsuit filed by the MEA that assailed the constitutionality of the new charter law and stopped the flow of state aid to the new schools. The Legislature took action by putting the charter schools under their local intermediate school district to keep state aid flowing and by passing a new law that addressed the court’s concerns.
June 1, 1995: Grand Valley State University became the second university charter school authorizer in Michigan under the leadership of President Arend D. Lubbers. GVSU opened 3 charter schools in the fall of 1995.
December 1995: To ensure that funds would continue to flow to the newly chartered public schools, a bill was signed into law to create Part 6b of the Revised School Code, which allowed for these schools to operate.
The Michigan Association of Public School Academies (MAPSA) was formed as an advocacy organization for Michigan’s charter schools.
April 1996: The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the 1994 ruling by an Ingham County Circuit Court judge that ruled the charter school law was unconstitutional. The case was taken to the Michigan Supreme Court.
Margaret Trimer-Hartley, who was spokesperson for Michigan Education Association (MEA) from 1996 until 2007, was among many who noted that the education establishment also saw the need for change early in the discussion.
March 1997: President Bill Clinton spoke to a joint session of the Michigan House and Senate outlining his education plan, which promoted charter schools. In his State of the Union speech earlier that year, he had called for the creation of 3,000 charter schools nationally by 2002.
July 1997: After three years of the defense of the state’s main charter school law, Part 6a of the Revised School Code, the Michigan Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality and ruled that charters are, in fact, public schools. Part 6b was automatically repealed.
Richard McLellan and Leonard Wolfe were the leading legal architects of the charter school legislation. Both worked for the Lansing law firm Dykema Gossett, PLLC. When the issue went to court, they led the defense team.
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce, a statewide trade association representing businesses, played a critical role by funding the legal costs to defend the charter school law. Then-Chamber President Jim Barrett noted that his organization had been involved in education reform well before the lawsuit was filed. The group was a strong proponent of creating competition in the education marketplace and had supported the charter public school bills in the Legislature.
The Michigan Supreme Court’s decision affirmed the constitutionality of Michigan’s charter school law and reaffirmed the long-held power of the Legislature to create different types of public schools.
Fall 1997: Michigan reaches its 100-school milestone as the 1997-1998 school year begins with 106 charter schools.
The MEA developed an official organizational policy that attempted to support charter schools. It turned out to be a difficult position to maintain. Charter schools had a history of stirring partisan furor, and the MEA – an entity that supports its members and survives on member support – wrestled unsuccessfully to embrace a decidedly non-unionized education environment.
May 1999: A bill was signed into law that created a new type of charter school, “strict discipline academies,” to serve court-placed and suspended students.
Fall 1999: The legislatively mandated "cap" on the number of schools that can be authorized by state public universities (150 schools total) was reached.
Bay Mills Community College, a federal tribally controlled community college located in Michigan’s upper peninsula, began chartering public schools. Community colleges were restricted to authorize schools within their geographic area however as a federal tribally controlled community college, Bay Mills took the position they could authorize statewide. Some argued this was an end-run around the state's legislatively mandated university authorized cap of 150 schools and the MEA filed a lawsuit.
Fall 2001: The number of charter public schools in Michigan reached 184 serving 54,000 students for the 2000-2001 academic year. 44 of those schools were located within the School District of the City of Detroit.
The Michigan Council of Charter School Authorizers was established. This member-led council serves as a collaborative, non-profit, non-partisan professional organization.
The Michigan Public Education Finance Authority. This authority allowed charter schools to borrow short and long-term money at tax-exempt rates.
October 2003: A bill creating Part 6c of the Revised School Code became law. This allowed state public universities to charter up to 15 “urban high school academies” in the School District of the City of Detroit.
Michigan charter schools celebrated the 10th anniversary of the charter school law being passed. The state hit 200 charter schools in operation.
December 2005: An Ingham County Circuit Court judge dismissed the MEA lawsuit against Bay Mills Community College allowing it to charter schools within the School District of the City of Detroit. The MEA appealed the decision.
August 2006: The Michigan Court of Appeals reaffirmed an Ingham County Circuit Court judge’s decision rejecting the MEA’s claim that Bay Mills Community College could not legally authorize charter schools.
Fall 2007: The number of students attending Michigan’s charter schools topped 100,000, or approximately 6% of total state enrollment, for the first time – 48 of those schools were located within the School District of the City of Detroit.
January 14, 2009: With 233 charter public schools serving more than 100,000 students, Michigan charter schools celebrated the 15th anniversary of the charter school law being passed.
July 2009: Attorney General Mike Cox issued an opinion clarifying the charter school law and the definition of a first class school district, which allowed community colleges to charter schools within the School District of the City of Detroit.
December 2009: The Michigan Legislature passed legislation to permit the creation of cyber charter schools that could serve students across the state, providing 100 percent online instruction.
December 2011: After months of testimony and opposition from those who wanted to protect the status quo, the Michigan Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder signed into law a bill to lift the charter "cap."
Michigan had 300 charter schools serving students.
January 2018: Legislation is passed to include charter schools in regional enhancement millages.
Sources: "15 Years of Transforming Public Education," The Center for Charter Schools, Central Michigan University, 2009; Michigan Association of Public School Academies website; "2019-2020 Charter Schools Office Report - 25 Years of Innovation," Grand Valley State University.