Private and public schools throughout Michigan can find common ground in promoting education through a program known as “shared time.”

Shared time allows public schools to provide teachers to private schools and then count the private school students toward state aid. It is only allowed for non-core classes, such as art, music, phys. ed. and computers. It cannot be used for English, math, science or history.

“It’s really beneficial to both sides,” Bernie Stanko, superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids, told Michigan Education Report. “It’s a trade off in that we don’t have to hire more teachers, and they get to count our kids for the time spent teaching them.”

The formula for counting the private school students, according to the Michigan Department of Education, is as follows: divide the sum of instructional hours for each class by the minimum number of required instructional hours. The department’s Web site gives an example of a public school providing a computer class for one hour a day for 90 days, or (60 minutes/60 minutes per hour) x 90 days/1,098 hours, which gives each private school student a “full-time equivalent” of 0.08.

“It’s a trade off,” Stanko said. “Our kids get more instruction, and they (individual public school districts) get some more money.”

The Diocese of Grand Rapids has shared time programs in 38 elementary schools and four high schools spread over 11 counties.

“In some cases, it’s just one teacher who comes in a few days a week for one class,” he said. “In other cases, you might have one teacher who works for the diocese, and the rest are shared time, and they’re teaching several sections of the same class.”

Stanko said the latter example is mostly found in the high schools, where there is high demand for certain classes at different times of the day. No matter which way shared time works, Stanko said the benefits to private schools cannot be understated.

“Every little bit helps,” he said. “We have a limited amount of resources.”

Tim Purkey, assistant superintendent for Grandville Public Schools, said the program is “an ongoing, working relationship.”

Students from local private schools come to Grandville for water safety instruction, as well as some “gifted and talented” classes, while art and gym teachers from Grandville go to the private schools to teach.

Purkey said he thinks the private school students are getting a “richer education,” and the parents of those students are being served, too, because they are Grandville tax payers.

Esther Kuiper, director of the shared time program for Grand Rapids Public Schools, said the district works with 30 different independent schools in and around the city.

“Parents have so many good options now on where to send their children to school,” Kuiper said. “We all have to work together.”

Kuiper said GRPS serves 27 parochial schools within the district, and one each in neighboring Kentwood, East Grand Rapids and Kenowa Hills districts. State law allows for such cross-boarder operations among contiguous districts.

“It really isn’t something that can work on a smaller scale,” Kuiper said. “Those districts with just one or two non-public schools would end up spending more than they get from it.”

Shared time was used by schools until the mid 1980s, when the United State Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional and, in effect, subsidized religion. The court eventually reversed that decision and ruled that such an arrangement did not present “an unnecessary entanglement” of church and state. It was reinstituted across Michigan in 1997, although not without changes.

“It used to be where the teacher who may have been in a private school for years would become a shared time teacher, and still remain under the authority of the private school,” Stanko said. “The public school would just pay for the teacher and count the kids.

“Now, there is a clean separation,” Stanko continued. “The public school does the hiring, the evaluations, the assignments. There is some input from the building principal, but the responsibility belongs to the public school district.”