Nearly 100,000 Michigan students use “Schools of Choice” to attend a school outside of the district in which they live. Despite this large volume of students, this form of public school choice has not been widely studied, especially compared to other forms of public school choice such as charter schools.

This study examines the use of Schools of Choice throughout Michigan over the last decade. It measures growth over time, geographic spread and the revealed student and parental preferences the program brings to light. The study finds that Schools of Choice participation has grown steadily, with enrollment growing by 144 percent over the past 10 years.

Though enrollment through Schools of Choice was previously more prevalent in rural areas of the state, it is now widespread throughout Michigan. A total of 461 school districts reported receiving at least one student through Schools of Choice during the 2011-12 school year. High school and kindergarten students use Schools of Choice more than students in any other grade.

Schools of Choice enrollment is analyzed by locale, distinguishing among city, suburban, town and rural school districts. Rural districts have the largest proportion of students enrolling through Schools of Choice, with 89 percent of districts participating and accounting for nearly 10 percent of total enrollment. Only 3 percent city schools’ enrollment comes from Schools of Choice, the least among the four locale groups.

This study analyzes the characteristics of districts students chose to leave compared to those of districts students chose to attend. It finds that students enter districts that have higher graduation rates and higher test scores. On average, Schools of Choice students chose districts with higher pupil-teacher ratios, lower expenditures per pupil and higher average teacher salaries.

The study also looks at the impact Schools of Choice has on individual districts. Fifteen districts enroll more than 1,000 students through Schools of Choice, with Clintondale, Oak Park and West Bloomfield the top three. Sixteen districts, meanwhile, had more than 1,000 students leave their districts and enroll in a different one through Schools of Choice, with the Detroit, Lansing and East Detroit districts seeing the largest exodus of students.

Limitations to Schools of Choice policies are also discussed. The study recommends removing state policies that limit Schools of Choice participation by geography, allowing  conventional districts to operate educational facilities and serve students outside of their borders and requiring all Michigan districts to open a minimum number of seats up to Schools of Choice participation.

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