News Story

Parents Complain Students From Adjacent Districts 'Overcrowding' Their Schools

Actual enrollment figures tells a different story about schools of choice program

A recent story in the Lansing State Journal on a Michigan public school choice program featured parents from two different school districts complaining that the program is causing overcrowded classrooms in their own districts.

But data from the Michigan Department of Education show that the complaints are not supported by the historical record. Enrollment at one of those districts has been in decline for the past eight years, while the other has not experienced any significant enrollment increase.

The story focused on how the East Lansing and Holt school districts have benefitted from the schools of choice program begun in the 1990s, mostly by taking students from the academically struggling Lansing school district.

The program allows students to attend a public school located in a nearby district, rather than only the school to which they are assigned, as long as the receiving district says it has slots for extra students. Since under Michigan's school funding system money follows the student, the receiving district gets more state aid, and the student's home district gets less.

In both instances cited by the newspaper report, parents said their home districts were taking too many schools of choice students, which caused their own schools’ classrooms to become overcrowded.

Yet at one of those parent’s home district, Holt in Ingham County, enrollment has been in a general decline since the 2006-07 school year. Holt Public Schools had 5,708 students in 2014-15, which was 285 fewer than in 2006-07. In the most recent school year, it lost 72 students from the previous year.

Actual enrollment at the other so-called overcrowded district, East Lansing, also contradicts the claim. East Lansing Public Schools had 3,503 students in 2014-15, which was just seven more than the previous year, and 35 fewer students than in 2012-13. In 2005-06, the district had 3,467 students, meaning enrollment has remained fairly stable over the past 10 years.

Michael Van Beek, the director of research at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said if there was overcrowding the blame lies with administrators, because they can limit the number of students they accept from nearby schools.

“School districts have complete control over how many students come into their district,” Van Beek said. “It’s not like they open the doors and say, ‘Alright. Come on in.’ Instead, it’s, ‘We have room for seven kindergartners and 10 first-graders.’ That is how public schools of choice works.”

Van Beek said the Lansing School District has demonstrated a more constructive response to the challenge, which the article described as follows:

“Lansing Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul said the district is offering more options than neighboring districts and has changed the way students in the district choose schools.

“Lansing is abandoning the neighborhood school model. Instead, parents are encouraged to identify what subjects interest their children and pick a school within the district accordingly.

“For students interested in math and science, Lansing has elementary and middle schools with STEM-focused curriculum. Children who want to study dance or theater can attend the Pleasant View Visual and Performing Arts Academy. The district also offers Spanish and Chinese language immersion programs starting in elementary school and continuing through high school.”

Van Beek said schools of choice is beneficial not only because it lets parents find schools that better fit their children’s needs, but because it also creates an incentive for neighboring school districts to raise their own game.

“It puts pressure on districts like Lansing to either improve their performance or just accept a continuing flight of students — and the state dollars attached to them,” he said

Contrast Lansing’s positive response to that of Albion Public Schools, where earlier this year Superintendent Jerri-Lynn Williams-Harper wrote a letter to nearby districts telling them to “cease and desist immediately” from providing transportation to Albion students who enrolled with them.

Under the 1996 law that created the cross-district program, parents are allowed to place their children in any school included in their local intermediate school district without having to get permission from their home district. Schools of choice was expanded in 1999 to include neighboring ISDs.

See also:

School Choice Benefits Students

Study: Michigan Students Benefit from Using 'Schools of Choice'

Parents Speak Out on Effort to Halt School Choice