Proponents of education reform in Michigan are exploring various proposals for fixing perceived public education ills such as school overcrowding and schools’ lack of incentives to improve student performance.

Some reformers have suggested that private schools could be used to reduce student overcrowding in public schools without the need for new taxes to construct additional schools. "Excess" public school students, they argue, could simply be transferred to existing, privately funded schools to help reduce class sizes and maximize available resources.

Other reformers have proposed to introduce market incentives into education by reducing, through vouchers or tax credits, the financial barriers to parents’ ability to choose from a full range of government- or privately funded schools.

But both of these proposals depend upon the ability and willingness of privately funded schools to accommodate additional students. To date, little research has been done to determine whether or not private schools 1) have the resources and capacity to take on more students and 2) would be willing to participate in reform proposals that would require them to take on more students.

In summer 1998, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy conducted a survey of privately funded schools in Michigan to determine the number of additional students the schools could accommodate for the 1998-99 school year and beyond. Questionnaires were mailed to each of the state’s 1,058 privately funded schools and results were gathered from 342 of them (32.3 percent) to reveal that privately funded schools in fact could have accommodated more than three percent of Michigan’s public school enrollment in the 1998-99 school year. Responding schools also reported a willingness and ability to accommodate additional students and to expand in the future if demand justified it.

Conservative projections based on the survey data indicate that Michigan privately funded schools could have accommodated a total of more than 55,000 additional students over their 1998-99 enrollments. The results of the survey suggest that proposals to expand parental choice in education or use privately funded schools to ease overcrowding in government schools could be both practical and efficient.