Rachel White presents her findings on private schools at a Mackinac Center forum.

A June 2 Issue and Ideas forum highlighted Michigan’s private school landscape. The event featured results from a statewide survey of private schools that the Mackinac Center conducted with the Michigan Association of Nonpublic Schools.  

Rachel White, a doctoral candidate at Michigan State University, gave the address, focusing on the shortage of available information about Michigan’s nonpublic schools. The survey closed the gaps in four key areas: school characteristics, enrollment and capacity, finances and offerings and accreditation. It generated an astounding response, with more than half of Michigan’s 600 private schools taking part. 

Nonpublic schools serve fewer low-income students than their public counterparts, but that is not surprising given they must charge tuition. However, our survey also showed their willingness to offer financial support, with more than one in three providing aid. 

Roughly 21,000 additional spaces for students are available in Michigan’s nonpublic schools. Those seats could be used by families who choose nonpublic education, were the state to allow funds to follow students there. Of the school leaders who responded to the survey, 71 percent would consider participating in a public scholarship program.

Opponents of school choice make arguments about academic accountability and teacher qualifications. It is true that private schools do not have to take state standardized tests or hire certified teachers. But each year, 80 percent of them do use norm-referenced tests for their students in third through eighth grades, and a similar share of nonpublic schoolteachers are state-certified. Fully 98 percent hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

With the state’s academic shortcomings and more parents wanting education alternatives, a broader look at school choice should be a larger part of the conversation about preparing the next generation.