Michigan families have enjoyed expanded educational options since the state's public
schools-of-choice program began in 1996, but some districts have had to make significant
budget changes to adjust for students switching to different schools.
Under the schools-of-choice program, parents can send their children to a public school
outside of their home district, provided the home district and district of choice both
approve the transfer. In 1996, the first year of the program, nearly 6,200 students
switched to a public school different from the one assigned to them by their home
district. In 1997, another 10,750 students changed schools. The numbers for 1998 have not
yet been released, but are expected to show an even greater increase.
For some districts, the effect of students coming and going is negligible. But for
others, the gain or loss of students can mean millions of dollars in state funding.
Essexville-Hampton Public Schools in Bay County received an additional $1.2 million for
the current school year from students bringing their state foundation grants from
neighboring school districts. Nearby Bay City Public Schools, however, stands to lose
about $1.4 million in state aid as a result of students transferring out.
Rather than viewing this loss as a setback for his district, Bay City Public Schools
Superintendent David M. Hutton sees the situation as an opportunity to improve. "I
look at this as a positive initiative for good schools to get better," Hutton told
the Bay City Times. "I feel we have a very good school district with excellent
The monetary losses are not always as bad as they sound. Districts that lose students
to other districts no longer have to spend money educating the students who chose another
But public school choice can still wreak havoc with budget planning. For the 1998-99
school year, Jackson Public Schools budgeted for a loss of $1.1 million in state funding,
due to an expected loss of 200 students. Early projections based on actual student
transfers, however, caused the school board to revise its estimated losses to over 540
students, which created an additional budget shortfall of $2 million.
Some districts respond to the budget shortfalls by adopting competitive contracting for
school support services, according to Michael LaFaive, managing editor of Michigan
Privatization Report. "Schools don't have to just absorb financial losses when students choose another school. Districts of all sizes can offset
losses with major cost savings by competitive bidding of bus, janitorial, food
services and teacher health insurance," LaFaive said.
Not every Michigan public school district is willing to accept outside students and
allow current students to leave as part of the schools-of-choice program. Currently, 275
school districts offer full choice among themselves while 162 other districts have
designed their own limited choice programs exclusively within their Intermediate School
Districts. One hundred-twenty districts do not allow any form of school choice for
One example of a limited school choice plan is the one designed by Bloomfield Hills
School District in Oakland County. Due to dwindling enrollment, Bloomfield Hills decided
to open its doors to students outside the district. The school board set tuition for
nonresident transfers at $8,000 for elementary students, $9,000 for middle schoolers, and
$10,000 for attendees of Andover High School.
Parents must pay only the difference between Bloomfield Hills's tuition and the state
foundation grant provided that their home district releases the state money to Bloomfield.
In this example, parents would personally have to pay additional tuition of approximately
$4,000 to send a child to public Andover High. So far, 34 students among these three
Bloomfield public schools have exercised this option.
The legislation that created the state public schools-of-choice program is up for
review this year. Early indications point to the possibility of an expansion of the
program to include every school district in the state, not just those willing to