For more than 500,000 Michigan students, the school they attend is likely the only nearby public option. The majority of school districts in Michigan have just one building that serves students of a given grade-level.[1]

Approximately 60 percent of Michigan school districts, for example, have just one building that serves first grade students. For sixth graders, the figure is 83 percent. The situation is worse for high school students: Almost 87 percent of school districts have just one school that offers ninth grade classes.

Charter public schools offer additional options to many of these students. During the 2012-13 school year, approximately 130,000 students attended charter schools.[2] However, charter schools are overwhelmingly concentrated in Michigan’s urban areas. According to a Stanford University study, nearly half of charter students in Michigan attend school in the greater Detroit area.[3]

“Schools of Choice,” a state policy that allows districts to receive state funding for nonresident students they enroll, has the potential to provide even more educational options to students in Michigan’s public schools. During the 2011-12 school year, 461 districts reported enrolling at least one nonresident student through Schools of Choice, and nearly 100,000 K-12 students used the program.[4] Further, some school districts team up to offer similar opportunities that are not a part of Schools of Choice for students through cooperative programs.[5] As many as 40,000 students could be using those programs.[6]

Since its inception, student participation in inter-district Schools of Choice has expanded from rural areas to districts throughout the state. Some urban-area districts rely on the program heavily, and at least 15 districts report that half or more of their enrollment comes from nonresident students.[7] This paper focuses on Michigan’s inter-district Schools of Choice policy and explores its use by geography, enrollment and parental preferences.[*] Suggestions for state-level policy changes to improve Michigan’s Schools of Choice policy are also discussed.[†]

[*]  Note that intra-district school choice, parents choosing among schools within the same school district, is not analyzed in this paper.

[†]  Parts of this introduction were taken from a blog post previously published by the author. Audrey Spalding, “School Choice Benefits Students” (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Feb. 4, 2013), accessed Oct. 21, 2013,