More Michigan Students Are Using School Choice Programs, Study Finds

Published October 31, 2016

More than one in five Michigan public school students enrolled in charter schools or crossed district lines to attend a different public school during the 2015–16 school year, a statewide study shows.

Almost 23 percent of Michigan students in the public school system used a public school choice option in fall 2015, reveals the study of state data conducted by MLive, a Michigan media group comprising eight newspapers. “That’s up from 16 percent in fall 2009,” MLive reported in August.

“About 13 percent of children in fall 2015 crossed district lines to attend public school, mainly through the Schools of Choice program,” the study’s authors wrote. “Another 10 percent of students attended a charter school, the data shows. Those numbers have been going up even as the number of school-age children shrinks.”

‘Looking for Something Different’

Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, says trends in Michigan show parents clearly want school choice.

“What’s happening in Michigan with school choice shows the failure in large parts of the state, where parents and students are dissatisfied with the schooling options they’ve been assigned,” DeGrow said. “They’re looking for something different. The Mackinac Center recently conducted a statewide survey about how residents of Michigan feel about school choice. The results were that the people of Michigan support charter schools and cross-state enrollment by a two-to-one margin. Both public school charters and crossing out of the district have broad support from the people of Michigan.”

‘Voting with Their Feet’

DeGrow says parents’ actions show their positive opinion of school choice.

“Detroit has the second-largest percentage of kids in charters in the nation,” DeGrow said. “Many parents have voted with their feet and crossed over to suburban districts. Detroit has been in decline for many years, losing students because of safety issues and bad financial management. Parents are choosing different options for their kids’ school for a variety of reasons: safety, better curriculum, religious instruction, etc. The system should serve what families and students want, and many districts are figuring out how to adapt.”

‘Really Embracing School Choice’

Gary G. Naeyaert, executive director of the Great Lakes Education Project, says many Michigan parents are “embracing” education choice.

“We’re seeing parents really embracing school choice,” Naeyaert said. “Nearly 25 percent of all enrollment in choice schools in Michigan is a sea change from 1994, when the ballot measure about how Michigan would fund education first came out.

“We’re not yet in a place where we have had a generation of parents for whom school choice is a natural, normal option,” Naeyaert said. “It’s been slowly happening over the past 10 years. Charter school enrollment in the state just nine years ago was only about 5 percent. The number of children exercising choice has been growing.”

Charters a ‘Win-Win’

Naeyaert says charter schools are better options than many people who simply look at statewide test scores say.

“Charter school students tend to be [in] urban and poor [areas], and they do much worse than the statewide average, but when you look at where charter students came from and compare them to their academic peers, it’s very clear students in charter schools are outperforming them in a number of areas, because they receive two to three months extra of teaching on tasks than their peers in the public schools,” Naeyaert said.

“We have healthy competition and debate about charter schools in Michigan,” Naeyaert said. “Charter schools are not the enemy. In fact, they’re helping public schools raise the bar and compete for students more effectively. The way I see it, this is a win-win for everyone.”

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.

Internet Info:

“Full School Choice Tracking Survey 2016,” Mackinac Center for Public Policy, August 8, 2016: