Private Schools Report Unused Space

Overcrowded Public Schools Should Consider Using It, Study Says

Unused classroom space in Michigan private schools could alleviate student overcrowding in public schools, making some new tax-funded school construction unnecessary, according to a study released in March.

The study, conducted in 1998 by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, surveyed 342 of Michigan's 1,058 privately funded schools and found that they could have accommodated over 55,000 public school students, or up to 3.3 percent of the Michigan public school total, without exceeding 1998-99 classroom space. The survey did not consider grade level when determining the amount of available space.

The study suggested that public schools could rent unused space from private schools, and that private schools have capacity to educate students who might migrate from the public system as part of school choice programs.

Michigan private schools displayed an overwhelming willingness to accept a greater proportion of the state's 1.7 million public school students. Only eight percent of surveyed schools indicated unwillingness or inability to accept more students. Typical of the respondents was Dr. George Locke of the Michigan District Lutheran Schools-Missouri Synod, which currently serves over 25,000 students.

"For over 150 years our schools have met both the spiritual and educational needs of congregations and communities in which they are located," Locke said. "And we're committed to continue to reach out to those communities as it is part of our purpose and mission."

Michigan private schools already save the school aid fund over $1 billion annually by educating 220,000 students who otherwise would require about $6,000 each in taxes to attend public schools.

The study mirrors a 1997 U. S. Department of Education national assessment that examined "the benefits of using private and parochial schools as alternatives to alleviate the overcrowding in public schools." The department's findings, released earlier this year, estimate that private schools could absorb as much as four percent of public school students in 22 urban communities.

The complete, 10-page Michigan study may be accessed at www.mackinac.org/article.asp?ID=1626,or by calling the Mackinac Center for Public Policy at (989) 631-0900. Educators are not charged for single copies.