New Study Examines Michigan’s Public School Market

Schools of Choice up 144 percent in the last decade; policy changes could provide more students with better public school options

For Immediate Release
Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013
Ted O'Neil
Media Relations Manager

MIDLAND — About 100,000 students in Michigan attend a public school other than the one to which they are assigned through the state’s “Schools of Choice” law, a 144 percent increase from a decade ago, according to a new study released today by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

“The fact is that nearly as many students choose a different conventional school district over their own as do those who choose charter public schools,” according to Audrey Spalding, director of education policy and author of the study. “We found that parents utilize Schools of Choice to send their students to districts that have higher test scores and higher graduation rates.”

The study also looks at Schools of Choice movement by locale type and the top 50 districts for both the largest enrollment gains and largest enrollment losses.

“Schools of Choice has demonstrated increasing popularity with relatively large rates of participation throughout all areas of the state,” Spalding said. “It serves significant numbers of students in both urban and rural areas, which is no small feat.”

The study also includes policy recommendations to help give students access to better options by easing restrictions on geography and funding, and limiting districts’ ability to pick and choose incoming students. Currently, Schools of Choice is only permitted between districts within an Intermediate School District or one that is contiguous. About 80 percent of Schools of Choice students attend another district within their own ISD.

“This geographic limitation should be eliminated so that students would be free to attend any district outside of their own that they wish,” Spalding said. “Districts should also be able to open schools outside of their current boundaries.”

Spalding points to the West Bloomfield and Clintondale districts, each of which enrolls more than 1,000 Schools of Choice students, saying “It’s certainly possible they could make use of the ability to open a school in the community of nonresident students they serve.”

Pro-rated funding is another policy change that should be implemented to make districts more willing to accept Schools of Choice students at any time during the year and remove the emphasis of the fall “count day.”

Finally, state law should be amended to prevent conventional school districts from discriminating against potential Schools of Choice students.

“Many districts that bar or severely limit nonresident students — such as Grosse Pointe, Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Rochester and Freeland — are near academically struggling districts, namely Detroit, Pontiac and Saginaw, respectively,” Spalding said. “It wouldn’t be unreasonable to require districts to open up at least 5 percent of their seats to Schools of Choice students, which would provide more students with better public school options while also protecting schools from having to take in more students than they can reasonably serve.”

The full study is available at Spalding also discusses her findings in this video.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. The largest state-based free-market think tank in the country celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.


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