The constitutional amendment described in Section III establishes a credit "for tuition for education for any resident child attending a public or nonpublic elementary or secondary school in this state." Thus, a credit would be available to a parent sending their child to a private school, or a public school that charges them tuition. We have defined such schools in this study as "alternative schools."

Between 400 and 500 students statewide are currently paying tuition at public schools, a tiny number compared to approximately 220,000 private school students and 1.65 million students in traditional public schools.

There are no reliable data from State sources on the number of tuition-paid public school students. To fully explore this category of students, the Mackinac Center conducted a survey of ten public school districts in various areas of the state, in the fall of 1997. The survey revealed the following:

  • State law currently does not require school districts, in which reside parents who choose to send a child to another intermediate school district, to "release" the tuition amount. If the student is "unreleased," the student may be forced to pay tuition.

  • Tuition charged by receiving districts varies from $1 to $8,000. The average appears to be about $470, as most districts charge only nominal fees. The existence of one district in the sample—Ann Arbor—charging an exorbitant amount clearly skewed the average upward. Two other measures of central tendency, which tend to be more robust, were much lower. The median figure—the middle figure—was just $1, as was the mode (the most common figure).

  • The decision to refuse to "release" a student appears to be often based on political opposition to school choice by teacher unions in the district, rather than fiscal or management considerations. A district which refuses to release a student, who nonetheless attends school in another district, cannot include that student in their overall pupil count. This means they do not receive the per-pupil funding for that pupil.

  • More districts are joining in compacts or agreements that allow free, or nearly free, movement of students among districts.

  • In cases where the district refuses to release a student, adverse publicity often results. The case of the Meridian school district not releasing a student to attend the Handley Elementary School in the Saginaw school district in an example. 83

Data from the survey are presented in Table 2, below.
Table 2. Public School Tuition Students
School District Total Students Tuition Students Tuition
Saginaw 13,216 0 $2,500
Midland 9,618 6 $1,466
Flint 25,207 38 $1
Ann Arbor 15,590 1 $8,000
Detroit 174,573 10 $1,450
Traverse City 7,107 1 $1
Hancock 1,091 0 n/a
Ludington 2,776 11 $25
Dewitt 2,530 0 n/a
Hillsdale 2,215 0 n/a
Total 253,923 67
n/a = not applicable

Summary Statistics

Tuition students as a percentage of students in districts sampled 0.026%
Weighted Average Tuition $472
Median Tuition $1
Mode Tuition $1
Using these districts as an indicator of "refusal to release" statewide, we can infer that between 400 and 500 students statewide are currently paying tuition at public schools, at an average tuition of about $470.84 These numbers are tiny compared to approximately 220,000 private school students and 1.65 million students in traditional public schools. If we use the median as a measure of tuition, the tuition amounts are even smaller—$1 per student multiplied by 400 or 500 students.

Thus, figures listed under "alternative school" costs and attendance, unless noted otherwise, are those projected by the model for private schools alone, for three reasons. First, the number of students in this category is so small—less than 1/10 of 1percent of the public school attendance. The real dynamic in the model, in terms of both fiscal impact and migration of students, is between public and private schools. Second, the fiscal impact is negligible, as the measurement error in modeling a $9.3 billion direct-cost system exceeds the total tuition paid by students in this category. Third, we expect the numbers in this group to decline, though not to reach zero.85

Table 3. Enrollment Projections Under Current System
Year Total Students Traditional Public School Students Total Alternative, Charter, and Home School Students Charter School Students Alternative School Students Home School Students
1998 1,905,125 1,650,000 255,125 15,125 220,000 20,000
1999 1,924,176 1,662,739 261,438 16,638 224,400 20,400
2000 1,943,418 1,675,421 267,997 18,301 228,888 20,808
2001 1,962,852 1,688,031 274,821 20,131 233,466 21,224
2002 1,982,481 1,700,552 281,928 22,145 238,135 21,649
2003 2,002,306 1,712,967 289,338 24,359 242,898 22,082
2004 2,022,329 1,725,255 297,074 26,795 247,756 22,523
2005 2,042,552 1,737,393 305,159 29,474 252,711 22,974
2006 2,062,977 1,749,357 313,620 32,422 257,765 23,433
2007 2,083,607 1,761,121 322,486 35,664 262,920 23,902
2008 2,104,443 1,772,654 331,789 39,230 268,179 24,380
Base Growth: 1.01 1.1 1.02 1.02

Table 4. Projected Public School Expenditures Under Current System
Year State Per-Pupil Grant Guarantee Traditional Public School Students Charter School Students State & Local Per-Pupil Expenditures, Traditional & Charter Public Schools
1998 $5,608 1,650,000 15,125 $9,338,021,000
1999 $5,776 1,662,739 16,638 $9,700,480,270
2000 $5,950 1,675,421 18,301 $10,076,845,183
2001 $6,128 1,688,031 20,131 $10,467,640,640
2002 $6,312 1,700,552 22,145 $10,873,410,903
2003 $6,501 1,712,967 24,359 $11,294,720,280
2004 $6,696 1,725,255 26,795 $11,732,153,838
2005 $6,897 1,737,393 29,474 $12,186,318,137
2006 $7,104 1,749,357 32,422 $12,657,841,999
2007 $7,317 1,761,121 35,664 $13,147,377,283
2008 $7,537 1,772,654 39,230 $13,655,599,706
Base Growth: 1.03 1.1
Figures for alternative and home school students are not as readily available. Based on discussions with private school representatives and other educators, we have started with a projection of 220,000 alternative school students and 20,000 home school students in the year 1998. As mentioned earlier, "alternative school" students include all students for whom tuition is paid, whether it be to a public school or a private school. The vast majority of these students attend private schools.

The decision to refuse to "release" a student to another public school appears to be often based on political opposition to school choice by teacher unions in the district, rather than fiscal or management considerations.

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