The constitutional amendment described in Section III establishes a credit "for tuition for education for any resident child attending a public or nonpublic elementary or secondary school in this state." Thus, a credit would be available to a parent sending their child to a private school, or a public school that charges them tuition. We have defined such schools in this study as "alternative schools."
There are no reliable data from State sources on the number of tuition-paid public school students. To fully explore this category of students, the Mackinac Center conducted a survey of ten public school districts in various areas of the state, in the fall of 1997. The survey revealed the following:
State law currently does not require school districts, in which reside parents who
choose to send a child to another intermediate school district, to "release" the
tuition amount. If the student is "unreleased," the student may be forced to pay
Tuition charged by receiving districts varies from $1 to $8,000. The average appears to
be about $470, as most districts charge only nominal fees. The existence of one district
in the sample—Ann Arbor—charging an exorbitant amount clearly skewed the average
upward. Two other measures of central tendency, which tend to be more robust, were much
lower. The median figure—the middle figure—was just $1, as was the mode (the
most common figure).
The decision to refuse to "release" a student appears to be often based on
political opposition to school choice by teacher unions in the district, rather than
fiscal or management considerations. A district which refuses to release a student, who
nonetheless attends school in another district, cannot include that student in their
overall pupil count. This means they do not receive the per-pupil funding for that pupil.
More districts are joining in compacts or agreements that allow free, or nearly free,
movement of students among districts.
In cases where the district refuses to release a student, adverse publicity often results. The case of the Meridian school district not releasing a student to attend the Handley Elementary School in the Saginaw school district in an example. 83
|Data from the survey are presented in Table 2, below.
|Using these districts as an indicator of "refusal to
release" statewide, we can infer that between 400 and 500 students statewide are
currently paying tuition at public schools, at an average tuition of about $470.84
These numbers are tiny compared to approximately 220,000 private school students and 1.65
million students in traditional public schools. If we use the median as a measure of
tuition, the tuition amounts are even smaller—$1 per student multiplied by 400 or 500
Thus, figures listed under "alternative school" costs and attendance, unless noted otherwise, are those projected by the model for private schools alone, for three reasons. First, the number of students in this category is so small—less than 1/10 of 1percent of the public school attendance. The real dynamic in the model, in terms of both fiscal impact and migration of students, is between public and private schools. Second, the fiscal impact is negligible, as the measurement error in modeling a $9.3 billion direct-cost system exceeds the total tuition paid by students in this category. Third, we expect the numbers in this group to decline, though not to reach zero.85
|Figures for alternative and home school students are not as readily
available. Based on discussions with private school representatives and other educators,
we have started with a projection of 220,000 alternative school students and 20,000 home
school students in the year 1998. As mentioned earlier, "alternative school"
students include all students for whom tuition is paid, whether it be to a public school
or a private school. The vast majority of these students attend private schools.