By Sam Inglot

Will the Lansing School District buy into charter schools?

Editor’s note: “On LSD” is City Pulse’s regular coverage of Lansing School District happenings.

Friday, Aug. 17 — The Lansing School District has heard pitches from two different charter schools in the past two months. 

That’s right: LSD may have the option to allow two charter schools to operate within its district. As a charter school authorizer, the district would be able to appoint the governing board of the charter schools and would receive three percent of the per-pupil funding for each student that attends the school. 

On Thursday night the school board was presented with the newest, and least developed, conceptual charter school. The group pursuing the charter is, as board member Nino Rodriguez put it, “a long time partner” in the community, the Black Child Family Institute. BCFI will undergo a name change to Building Child and Family Initiatives.

BCFI’s proposal asked the board to approve a letter to the state that would “simply let the state know that the Lansing School District is giving serious consideration to being a charter authorizer or co-charter authorizer for the Academy,” BCFI founder Barbara Roberts Mason said. The letter, along with an application to the state, would allow the BCFI to pursue a “planning grant” that would give them the funds to research programming and a management company. The deadline to apply is Aug. 22.

The board unanimously approved the proposal. The planning grant is the first step of a three-year process: one year for planning and one to two years for implementation. Mason said BCFI is hoping to condense the process down to two years.

The BCFI “Empowerment Academy” would be a charter school designed for 16- to 19-year-old dropouts, Mason said. She said the students taken in would already be out of the LSD system, so the district would not be robbed of state per-pupil funding.

Mason, joined by BCFI President Martha Bibbs, said the academy would be an “inclusive wrap-around” program. It would incorporate virtual and on-site learning, community health services, parent engagement and police and judicial system involvement. The academy would recruit students through a marketing program, references from the judicial system and kids already involved with BCFI. The academy would likely start with about 200 kids, Mason said.

Thursday night’s vote does not mean the district will ultimately authorize the charter school — it was only for the application and planning grant. BCFI at a later date could approach the board with a charter-authorization proposal.

A second charter school was pitched to the school board last month by the Michigan Public Health Institute, a non-profit looking to improve community health conditions and reduce disparities among population groups. The MPHI is in the later planning stages of a charter and is seeking an authorizer. No official request has been put before the board.

The MPHI Eastside Health Academy would be a pre-kindergarten through third grade school to be located in the mothballed Bingham Elementary School on the east side. The focus of the school would be designed around the relationship between health and educational attainment. MPHI officials said the school would attract students that would then be fed into the LSD system for higher grades.

Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul said it will take some serious consideration before acting on an authorization.

“It’s kind of a rough thing for us as a district because it requires a great deal of infrastructure to be established, just to be an authorizer,” she said. “There’s monitoring, there’s fiscal accountability, there’s helping them get their money in order and making sure they have their education management company and board of education. For us to get into the world of authorizing charters, it would require real serious study within the district to see whether or not we can actually divest our time into authorizing charters.”

Caamal Canul said charter schools do in fact compete with the district for students but said they are aimed at “niche” communities. The district is in conversations with MPHI “all the time,” she said. When MPHI plans to come to the board with an official request mains to be seen.