Charter schools in Michigan will get a boost this year from as much as $4 million in federal grants, despite criticism from state officials whose vote against the grants briefly put the funds in limbo.

The state’s education department announced this week that four schools will get up to $1 million each to expand their operations or open new schools. Over the next five years, the state expects to hand out $47 million in federal funds to help grow the state’s charter sector.

Officials say this grant will be different than previous versions, which came under scrutiny for funding schools that never opened their doors.

Some members of the state board still oppose any expansion of the charter sector, pointing out that a shrinking population and declining enrollment has forced traditional districts and charter schools to consolidate or close.

The Michigan school board voted against a key part of the grant program last month. At the time, board members believed that the grants would continue anyway despite their vote, but there was a month-long delay while the state Attorney General’s office double-checked whether the board had any legal authority over the federal funds.

“A 30-day delay within an already short grant cycle? That’s disruptive,” said Dan Quisenberry, president of the Michigan Association of Public School Academies. “That put a significant bump in the road for these” schools.

The money will pay for classroom supplies, curriculum materials, computers, and other materials, said Tammy Hatfield, manager of the charter schools unit at the Michigan education department.

She said the latest round of grants is different than previous ones. Crucially, applicants are required to have permission to open a school before they apply.

“It’s a different model,” she said. “The last grant was intended for seed money. It allowed entities to apply for planning grants, to see if they had the capacity to open a charter school. In this case, they are an entity already in existence.”

Michigan’s charter schools have already received upwards of $67 million from federal authorities under a grant program that began in 1994.

The state applied for the new funds under the late State Superintendent Brian Whiston, before the current board was elected.

The state’s applications had been denied twice in a row before it was awarded the latest $47 million last fall. Federal officials dinged Michigan for a lack of oversight over the authorizers who approve and oversee charters.

The schools set to receive new federal grants are:

  • Frontier International, Detroit
  • Lincoln-King/Washington Park, Detroit
  • Orchard Academy, Detroit
  • Star International, Canton

Four other schools applied for the money and were denied.

Frontier International and Lincoln-King plan to expand their operations by at least  three grades. Orchard Academy will be a new school, although its operations will be modeled on Charyl Stockwell Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Brighton.

All expect to be up and running in time for the 2019-2020 school year, Hatfield said.