Michigan law allows state universities, community colleges, intermediate school districts or conventional public school districts to authorize charter public schools. State universities can authorize a charter school anywhere in Michigan, but community colleges, intermediate districts and local school districts can only authorize charter schools within their own legal geographic boundaries.

While they aren't limited geographically, state universities are limited to authorizing a combined total of 150 charter schools. That ceiling was first reached in 1999. Since then, new university-authorized schools generally open only when existing charter schools close. (Some charter schools have added grades or buildings, but these do not count as new charter authorizations.)

Bay Mills Community College, located in Brimley, in the Upper Peninsula, is in the unique position of being a tribally controlled community college whose geographic boundaries, according to federal law, include the entire state. Because of this, Bay Mills also can authorize charter schools anywhere in Michigan.

State universities and Bay Mills combined authorized 185 of the 232 charter schools in operation in 2007-2008, according to a Michigan Department of Education report. Other community colleges authorized two charters; intermediate school districts authorized 30, and local school districts, 13.

In most cases, local school districts are unlikely to authorize the opening of a charter school that they view as a competitor. Intermediate districts tend to authorize charters intended to serve unique populations, such as alternative education students, rather than the community at large.

That leaves state universities as the main authorizing agency for charter schools that want to serve the general population. Dozens of applications for such schools are on hold at those universities.

Michigan law includes several twists directly related to charter school authorizations. One is an amendment passed in 2003 allowing state universities to authorize up to 15 high schools in the city of Detroit.

Another clause forbids community colleges from opening charter schools in a "first-class district." First-class is defined in the state school code as a district with at least 100,000 students. Detroit Public Schools maintained first-class status for years, but its enrollment dropped below that threshold in 2008-2009, which has opened the door for Bay Mills and Wayne County Community College to authorize more charter schools in Detroit. No other district has ever held first-class status.

Finally, the law allows an unlimited number of "strict discipline academies" to serve suspended or expelled students, or those placed by a court or juvenile agency.

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