The pursuit of customized educational experiences means unlocking a fuller range of different providers for students to access. Thus, the first key step to providing flexible learning entails modernizing Michigan’s Schools of Choice program.
Since 1996, Michigan has guaranteed that students have a limited right to enroll in nearby districts. Under Schools of Choice, a student’s resident district cannot prevent a student from enrolling in a nearby district and redirecting state funding to that district. Additionally, students must be accepted if space is available or participate in a random lottery if the number of applications exceeds the number of available spaces. Receiving districts may set a cap on a total number of SOC students, limit enrollments by grade level, building or program, however. And students are still limited geographically — they cannot enroll through SOC in districts outside of their neighboring intermediate school districts’ boundaries.
Parents clearly find value in the program. Demand for interdistrict choice has grown substantially over time. From 2007 to 2019, the number of students enrolled through Schools of Choice doubled to nearly 150,000, even as overall enrollment statewide fell. Nearly 50,000 public school students also cross district lines through similar local cooperative choice programs. Combined, about 15% of conventional district students attend a school outside their home district’s boundaries.
Additionally, districts should be permitted to provide instruction outside their recognized geographic boundaries, based on student demand. These two changes would give families more say and flexibility to find the educational path that works best for their children.