Charter Schools Growing

By: Lauren Zakalik Email
By: Lauren Zakalik Email

Lansing parent Shamondra Luckett opted a few years ago to put her kids in the Waverly school district.

Now she's exploring another option altogether: the new Lansing Charter Academy, which opened Tuesday.

"We brought them here because of the reputation we've heard about National Heritage Academy," Luckett says.

And according to the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, Luckett's kids are part of a growing population. While Michigan public school enrollment is down 5 percent, they say charter school enrollment is up 27 percent between 2003 and 2008.

Lansing Charter Academy principal Chris Thompson says their 300 or so students are choosing them for a few reasons.

"Student accountability, parent involvement, a moral focus and high academic standards," he says, listing the four "pillars" of the National Heritgae Academy.

By the time the school gets to full capacity in a few years, the principal says there should be about 700 students. Gradually the school will grow into a K-8 school from the K-5 school it is now. But Thompson still says he doesn't view the charter school as competition for other districts.

"I don't think we're doing any disservice to those districts," he says. "They are a far greater entity [in size]."

But the disservice financially is undeniable.

The Lansing School District says last year they lost more than 1,600 students to charter area schools; that's more than $11.2 million in per pupil funding.

"When we lose students, that's a concern," says Lansing Superintendent T.C. Wallace.

But Wallace says the district's accomplishments, like reaching AYP in 31 out of 33 schools this year, and strong magnet programs, like the Chinese Immersion, will offset the loss.

"Those are very successful programs. They attract and keep students in the Lansing School District," Wallace says.

And they'll build on that-- as charter schools build too.

Both the charter school association and the Lansing School district list students moving out of state as a major factor in declining enrollment. Lansing says it gained more than 300 students last year from other school districts.

**Reporter's note: Earlier we reported the students leaving for charter schools resulted in a $1.2-million loss. It is in fact $11.2 million. We apologize for the error.


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