Falling Enrollment

Detroit-area students have a number of public school options: They can attend one of the city’s approximately 100 or so charter schools, or attend a nearby district using “Schools of Choice,” a policy that allows a student living in one district to attend a school in a different district.[*]

Student enrollment at the Highland Park school district declined precipitously during the most recent five-year period — from about 3,900 students during the 2007-08 school year to just over 1,000 students during the 2011-12 school year.[4] Highland Park’s loss of students during these years was primarily driven by students choosing to attend public schools in different districts.

The first year of significant enrollment decline over this recent period occurred between the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years, with enrollment dropping by about 24 percent, or 917 students. The following year was no better: Highland Park lost 36 percent of its student enrollment, more than 1,000 students in a single year.[5]

Despite this drop, Highland Park largely benefited from Schools of Choice. In the 2007-08 school year, for example, 2,411 nonresident students attended Highland Park schools through Schools of Choice  — meaning that more than 60 percent of students attending Highland Park schools did not actually live in the district.[6] Nearly all the students entering Highland Park schools were residents of Detroit Public Schools — a district which had had its own financial and management difficulties for a long time.[7]

Nevertheless, between the 2007-08 and 2011-12 school years, Highland Park lost 2,857 students.[8] Over the same period, the number of students using Schools of Choice to attend Highland Park schools dropped by 2,060, meaning 72 percent of the enrollment decline in Highland Park resulted from nonresident parents opting not to send their children to Highland Park any longer through Schools of Choice.[9]

[*]  For more on Schools of Choice, see “5I - Section 105 and 105c Schools of Choice Pupils” (Michigan Department of Education, June 2011), accessed Dec. 6, 2013, http://goo.gl/3TueOq.