Unused Private School Space Could Ease Crowded Public School Classrooms

Study Projects More Than 55,000 Open Seats Available

For Immediate Release Monday, March 15, 1999
Contact: Vice President of Communications Joseph G. Lehman at (989) 631-0900

MIDLAND-Overcrowded conditions in Michigan public schools could be eased without building more classrooms, according to a study released today by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Analysis of survey data by the Midland-based research and educational institute suggests that Michigan's 1,058 privately funded schools could absorb more than 55,000 additional students, or 3.3 percent of the state's total public school population, without exceeding 1998-99 classroom space.

The Michigan study mirrors results of a 1997 U. S. Department of Education national assessment that found private schools could accommodate as much as four percent of public school population in 22 urban communities. Many Michigan public schools report overcrowded conditions.

Innovative programs that would allow public schools to take advantage of unused private school capacity may be more practical than raising tax money to build new schools or classrooms, said study author and Mackinac Center Assistant Director of Education Policy Matthew J. Brouillette.

The study also shows that Michigan private schools as a whole have sufficient capacity to participate in school choice programs, including the Universal Tuition Tax Credit proposed by the Center in November 1997.

Under the tax credit plan, no public funds would be used to pay for a student's choice of a school outside the assigned district. Rather, any person or business paying a child's private or public school tuition could reduce his or her state tax liability by an amount not to exceed the cost of tuition or half of the approximately $6,000 per pupil now spent by the state in the public system.

Center researchers project the plan would provide incentives for 33,000 students to migrate from public to nonpublic schools in the first year, well below the 55,000 private school seats available. School Choice YES!, a Midland group, is promoting a 2000 ballot initiative that would amend the state constitution and implement the Center's plan.

The projected number of unused private school seats is based on written and phone surveys of 342, or 32 percent of, Michigan private schools. Fifty-five percent of the schools responded that they would be willing and able to expand to meet future demand and only eight percent said they would not do so.

The projected numbers of open seats in private schools in select Michigan communities are as follows:

  • Detroit 10,500

  • Grand Rapids 7,189

  • Flint 1,867

  • Kalamazoo 1,800

  • Lansing 951

  • Muskegon 909

  • Warren 802

  • Jackson 713

  • Dearborn 644

  • Dearborn Heights 435

  • Traverse City 275

The complete ten-page study, Unused Capacity in Privately Funded Michigan Schools, is available at no charge via the Internet at www.mackinac.org, or for $5 by calling (989) 631-0900. There is no charge for educators and journalists.