Virtual Charter Schools

The state’s two virtual charter schools[*] are the most recent type of virtual learning in Michigan. They opened for the first time in the 2010-2011 school year.

Michigan Connections Academy is authorized under a charter with Ferris State University and run by Baltimore-based Connections Academy, a for-profit virtual charter school management company.[68] Michigan Virtual Charter Academy is chartered by Grand Valley State University and managed by K12 Inc., a company similar to Connections Academy.[69]

The schools have central buildings in Okemos and Grand Rapids, respectively. Students may attend special events there or use the equipment to access their coursework, but their regular attendance is not required. The two schools use a mixture of computer-based, Internet-based, remote teacher online, blended learning and facilitated virtual learning, and they generate the majority of their own online content.[†] Unlike MVS or most single-district virtual programs, virtual charter schools must offer courses to any student in the state, from kindergarten through 12th grade.[70] Each school’s enrollment is limited by state law to no more than 400 pupils in the 2010-2011 school year. In subsequent years, each school is limited by law to enrolling no more than 1,000 pupils, with 1,000 students being permitted only if 300 of the enrollees are identified as “dropouts.”[71]

Unlike 11 other states, including Ohio, Wisconsin and Minnesota, Michigan had no full-time virtual charter schools[72] until the state Legislature passed a package of bills in late 2009 in an effort to solicit money from the U.S. Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” program. Funding for Michigan’s virtual charter schools is much simpler than the system used to fund MVS. As with any other charter school, they will receive the bulk of their operational funds through the state’s foundation allowance — i.e., the state’s standard per-pupil funding formula.[73] For the 2010-2011 school year, this will amount to $7,162 per pupil, though this is subject to legislative change. The new virtual charter schools will also receive federal and state “categorical” funding, which is in part tied to the enrolling students’ socio-economic status.

[*] Charter schools are public schools that have their own board of directors and are authorized to receive state money by public universities, intermediate school districts, local school districts or community colleges. These “authorizers” hold the charter schools accountable through performance-based contracts. Charter schools must also meet state-defined criteria in order to receive public funds. They may not charge tuition or deny any student admission if space is available. MCL § 380.501 et seq.

[†] K12 Inc. produces all of its own content (“Curriculum” (Michigan Virtual Charter Academy, 2010), (accessed Jan. 11, 2011)). But Connections Academy partners with a number of different curriculum providers to produce its course content (“Content Partners” (Connections Academy, 2010), (accessed Jan. 11, 2011)).

[68] “Connections Academy Public Cyber School Comes to Michigan — Approved to Open for 2010-2011 School Year,” eSchool News, June 1, 2010, (accessed June 1, 2010).

[69] Dave Murray, “GVSU Trustees Approve Michigan Virtual Charter Academy,” Grand Rapids Press, April 30, 2010, (accessed April 30, 2010).

[70] MCL § 380.552(2)(a)-(b).

[71] MCL § 380.552(2)(d)-(e).

[72] Watson et al., “Keeping Pace with K-12 Online Learning: An Annual Review of Policy and Practice” (Evergreen Education Group, 2010), 32-33, (accessed Jan. 9, 2011).

[73] Dave Murray, “Should Cyber Charter Schools Get the Same Per-Student State Aid as Traditional Schools?,” Grand Rapids Press, June 8, 2010, (accessed June 8, 2010).