Enrollment and Capacity

According to state data, there were more than 113,000 students enrolled in 601 private schools in Michigan for the 2014-2015 school year.[7]

The average private school enrolls about 190 students. With roughly 1.65 million school-age students in the state, private school students made up approximately 6.8 percent of the total school-age population.[*]

Using the average state per-pupil foundation allowance for 2014-15 of approximately $7,400, Michigan’s annual foundation allowance appropriation is about $750 million less than it would have to be if private school students attended public schools instead. This calculation does not include the variety of other taxpayer support used to provide free public education services to students (federal, local and other state aid), and the total amount that the state does not have to appropriate as a result of private school students obtaining their education without relying on public funds is likely closer to $1 billion per year.

Private schools serve students in all grade levels, preschool through 12th grade. They have a rather even distribution of students enrolled in each grade: There are just over 84,000 elementary and middle school students (grades PreK-8) and approximately 30,000 high school students (grades 9-12).[8]

This works out to be an average of between 7,500 and 8,000 students per grade in private schools. As a percent of school-age children, private schools serve approximately 7.6 percent of Michigan’s children ages 5 to 13 and 5.5 percent of ages 14 to 17.[9]

Similar to national trends, private school student enrollment in Michigan has experienced a consistent decline in recent years.[10]

Enrollment in the K-8 levels declined the most over the last eight years, as shown in Graphic 7. Additionally, as shown in Graphic 8, private school K-8 enrollment has declined at a faster rate than that of public schools. However, the opposite is true at the high school level: private high school enrollment has increased over the last five years, while public high school enrollment has declined. Finally, public preschool enrollment has drastically increased, likely due to the large influx of state aid for early childhood education under Gov. Snyder’s administration. Meanwhile, private preschool enrollment has declined.[†]

Graphic 7: Private School Student Enrollment Trends, 2008-2015

Graphic 7

Graphic 8: Five-year Percent Change in Public and Private School Enrollment, 2010-2015

Graphic 8

While publicly available data from CEPI provides annual student enrollment data in private schools, information related to private schools’ enrollment capacity is not available. Thus, survey data was retrieved from private schools to provide insight into this issue. Survey responses revealed that private schools have immediate capacity to serve more students than are currently enrolled, particularly at the elementary and middle school levels. From the 257 schools that responded to this survey question (77 percent of survey sample), there are an additional 10,000 seats available for elementary and middle school students and over 2,000 additional seats for high school students.

Extrapolating this out for all private schools suggests that private schools in Michigan have immediate capacity for about 21,000 more students. If Michigan’s private schools were filled to capacity, Michigan’s annual per-pupil foundation allowance appropriation could be reduced by more than $900 million per year.[‡]

[*]“Child Population by Age Group: Michigan” (Kids Count Data Center, July 2015), https://perma.cc/MWC2-2LDS. Given that Michigan has experienced a declining population, it should be noted that this estimate may overestimate the total number of school-age children in Michigan in the 2014-15 school year. Thus, the reported percentage of school-age children served by private schools included in our survey may be underestimated.

[†]Funding for Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program increased from $110 million in 2013 to $240 million in 2015. Bethany Wicksall and Mark Wolf, “Line Item and Boilerplate Summary: School Aid” (Michigan House Fiscal Agency, Sept. 2012), 3, https://perma.cc/WWH7-2NWG; Bethany Wicksall, “Line Item and Boilerplate Summary: School Aid” (Michigan House Fiscal Agency, Sept. 2014), 4, https://perma.cc/AZ7M-AV57.

[‡]It should be emphasized that this dollar savings calculation is an estimate. However, it does provide a rudimentary understanding of the extent of the possible savings to taxpayers of fully utilized private schools. The calculation was determined by (1) extrapolating the 12,000 additional seats indicated by the 334 survey respondent schools to 21,593 seats for 601 total private schools; (2) multiplying the total number of open seats by average per pupil foundation allowance for 2014-15 of approximately $7,400; (3) adding the total dollar amount from (2) to $750 million (the amount of money current private schoolchildren save Michigan taxpayers in foundation allowances).