Successful Public School System Would Charge Tuition, Screen Applicants

East Grand Rapids would screen applicants based on academics and disciplinary issues

East Grand Rapids High School has a national reputation as one of the finest schools in the country academically.

That reputation will likely be enhanced with a new policy the school district said it will start next year. The district will charge out-of-district parents thousands of dollars to enroll in an elite high school academic program while screening out applicants with mediocre or poor grades or disciplinary issues.

East Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Sara Shubel said in an email that other school districts offer tuition-based programs in Michigan and that state law allows it. And Shubel stated that the academic requirements for its International Baccalaureate high school program that would take in up to 20 tuition-paying students is not unlike other advanced programs offered throughout the state.

Shubel cited that her district “has received limited student funding increases over the last decade from Lansing” as one reason to seek more money.

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Birmingham Public Schools has a similar tuition program and more public school districts may follow this path of generating new funds.

But the concept of a public school charging tuition is news to some people.

“I’m very surprised they could do it,” said Tom McMillin, a former state representative who served on education committees and is the chairman of Concerned Taxpayers of Michigan. “I’d be surprised if any legislator in Lansing knows that this is happening.”

Gary Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, which pushes for reform in education, said his organization is against the concept of public schools charging tuition.

“It’s hostile to the concept of public education provided by the state and freely available to the citizens,” Naeyaert said. “If they want to become a private school, become a private school. It’s a hat trick of discrimination: You have to have funds, you have to be a superlative academic student and you have to be a good citizen with no disciplinary issues. This is not the concept of a free education guaranteed in the state constitution.”

The East Grand Rapids Public Schools said it will implement a tuition formula program that will allow it to charge parents anywhere from $2,500 to $10,000. It plans to screen out applicants who don’t have at least a 3.0 grade-point-average or who have disciplinary issues, which might range from a two-day suspension to a misdemeanor conviction.

In addition to the limited "Baccalaureate" program, East Grand Rapids participates in the Michigan Schools of Choice program that lets students attend school districts adjacent to where they live. In the past two years, East Grand Rapids has enrolled 72 such students.

The district's International Baccalaureate program would charge successful applicants tuition based on how much state foundation allowance money they bring to the district.

(The tuition formula is $10,000 less the foundation allowance amount that comes with the student from the transferring school district. This ranged from $7,100 to $8,000 in Kent County in 2014. Families from non-adjacent public school districts will have to pay the full $10,000 if their home district does not approve the transfer, which it is not required to do.)

Birmingham Public Schools already has a tuition program in place that also has requirements based on conduct, grades and test scores. For example, at the high school level, non-resident students must have a 2.8 grade-point-average, have proficient scores on a state-standardized test and not have any incidents of academic misconduct and may not come from alternative education program. Birmingham charges between $11,500 to $13,400, depending on the grade level of the student. 

East Grand Rapids Public Schools had 2,967 students in 2014-15 and only 129 students (4 percent) were considered “economically disadvantaged” by the state.

Newsweek magazine listed East Grand Rapids High School as the 56th-best high school in the country in 2014. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy gave East Grand Rapids High School an “A” in its 2014 report card.

The East Grand Rapids' Tuition Enrollment Program will begin in the 2015-16 school year. There is a $50 non-refundable application fee. Students must have a 3.0 GPA or better in core subjects and state-assessment test scores must be at proficient levels. Student applicants can’t have any “incidents of academic misconduct,” may not have been suspended for two days or more, expelled from their previous school, or been convicted of any crimes, including misdemeanors.

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See also:

Birmingham Latest District to Exploit Schools of Choice