This study uses the terms "alternative school" and "alternative school student" to refer to any situation where tuition is paid for a student to attend a nonpublic or public school. Some public schools charge tuition when parents choose a public school outside the home intermediate school district and the home district superintendent refuses to release funding. The vast majority of alternative school students, however, are in private schools. In either case parents pay tuition to the school.
Although parents have always had the option of sending their children to alternative schools, often wealthier parents were the only ones who could afford to take advantage of this opportunity with the hope of providing a better education for their children than the assigned public schools might provide. Parents who elected to make use of the assigned public schools could make choices about their schools only by choosing where to live; in fact, home buyers with children have long identified the quality of the local school district as one of the primary considerations when choosing a home. Yet here, too, parents experienced financial constraints because the cost of property tends to be higher in the better school districts. Thus, a system of "assignment" has left parents in a relatively passive role in relation to school selection. It was only with the advent of school choice programs that children attending many public schools began to enjoy some of the choices that their more economically advantaged counterparts enjoyed all along.
Parents can choose to send their children to alternative schools in an assignment system, but they effectively have to pay twice. They pay tuition out of their pockets, and they pay property, income, and sales taxes, which go toward the support of the government education system. In Michigan today, Proposal A and its accompanying legislation did reduce the property tax burden shouldered by many Michigan citizens and businesses. However, the proposal did not eliminate the double payment situation since Michigan citizens must still pay the higher sales tax and the property taxes dedicated to support the government school system. 6
Parents can also exercise choice in an assignment system by selecting a residence in a school district they desire. However, this is still a very limited choice and unavailable to many families, especially those in lower income brackets who cannot afford homes in desired school districts.