Charter school, academy: What's the difference?

Mark Brooky • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:03 PM


There is usually no difference, as an academy can be a charter school. However, academy is really just another name for school, so it could be a private or parochial school.

The West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics is one of the two charter schools in Northwest Ottawa County, and both are located in Ferrysburg. The other is the Walden Green Montessori School.

"The academy is a charter school and, as a public school, is tuition free," explained  Whitney Zillmer of the West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics. "The academy was founded by Grand Valley State University and is state funded, just like the traditional public school districts."

Charter schools are tuition free because they are a public school, but not part of the traditional local public school district. So, you don't actually fund them through your local school property tax, but you do via the state. When the Michigan tax law changed several years ago, even all of the local school districts get much of their funding from per-pupil state distributions.

The Center for Public Education has an explanation on its website: "Simply put, a charter school is a non-religious public school operating under a contract, or 'charter,' that governs its operation. For almost two decades, charter schools have evolved as a way to experiment with education innovations and provide public school choice. All details of school operation — its name, organization, management and curriculum — are set by the charter, which also outlines how the school will measure student performance."

The center says charter schools must have open enrollment policies and cannot discriminate based on academic ability, disability, race, color, gender, national origin, religion or ancestry.

Walden Green Montessori School in Ferrysburg, although a state-funded charter school, has a different teaching philosophy than traditional schools, according to its website: "Our school is a dynamic community of active learners with children, parents, teachers and community members sharing in the learning process. Our programs cultivate motivation, self-discipline and the love of learning in children — qualities that will serve children well throughout their lives."

Should you want a very detailed look into charter schools in America, click here.

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