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Charter School Expansion Underway in Michigan

UPDATED

It's been a busy year on the charter school front in many states, with lawmakers and governors having approved expansions of programs designed to fuel growth or innovation in that sector. Now, Michigan has passed new law that could smooth the path for a surge of charter schools in that state, by easing restrictions on their number and location.

The law removes the state's cap on university-authorized charter schools in phases, according to a recent analysis.

Under previous law, the number of contracts for charters, or "public school academies," issued by Michigan's public universities is limited to 150; the bill would remove that cap, allowing for expansion over time. The legislation also includes provisions meant to establish clearer educational goals for charters

State Sen. Phil Pavlov, the Republican chair of his chamber's education committee, including many in the state's largest cities, says that two-thirds of the state's charter schools have waiting lists, and that the measure will ease that backlog. GOP lawmakers are pursuing an ambitious education agenda that they argue will increase families' choice of schools, though many Democrats say their proposals are likely to lead to increased privatization of services, with no increase in quality.

Pavlov called the charter measure a "critical step toward improving Michigan's whole education system," in a statement.

Gov. Rick Synder had initially proposed a more limited expansion of charter schools, spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said. But the Republican supports the bill—which cleared both legislative chambers recently—and he is planning on signing it, she explained in an e-mail.

[UPDATED: Synder signed the measure into law on Wednesday. He noted that it requires charter schools to meet many of the same academic standards as other public schools, such as complying with with laws concerning participation in state assessments, student growth models and accountability. The law also requires charter schools to make their contract information available to the public.

"Charter schools play a critical role in providing Michigan students and parents with alterative educational options," Snyder said. "This reform gives families who are trapped in failing schools more freedom to take control of their future."]

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