Last year 45 students left Grosse Pointe Public Schools for other Michigan school districts. And because these students left under Michigan's Schools of Choice program, each student took their state funding with them — out of Grosse Pointe and to other school districts.
Districts cannot prohibit their students from leaving, but they can shut their doors to incoming nonresident students. Most Michigan school districts participate in "Schools of Choice" and admit some students who do not live within district boundaries. In these cases, everyone wins (except the district they leave): Students get to attend a school that can help better serve their needs, and districts get additional per-pupil funding from the state.
But Grosse Pointe does not participate in Schools of Choice. Indeed, keeping nonresident students out has become a top priority for at least one Grosse Pointe legislator, and an organizing issue for a group called "Residents for Residency."
In fact, Grosse Pointe pays private investigators $8,000 per year to investigate students' enrollment eligibility. During the 2011-12 school year, according to Patch, the district investigated more than 180 students for nonresidency, and told 42 students to leave.
The district, in its residency and enrollment fact sheet, provides a phone number community members can call to report a suspected nonresident, and reports that if a student is found to be a nonresident, he or she "...is removed from the school district promptly (typically within a week)."
Apparently, these measures have not been enough. Grosse Pointe officials have recently sent letters to 700 families who rent homes to verify that they will continue to live at that address, and have posted an affidavit for landlords that requires all residents of a home, including children, be listed.
The latest move is to impose steep fines: The Grosse Pointe School Board voted in August to impose a penalty of up to $13,038 on nonresident students found to be attending Grosse Pointe schools.
What seems odd about these measures to identify and remove nonresident students is that Grosse Pointe is spending money to investigate students and losing state money when they leave. Meanwhile, the district stands to gain a great deal of state money if it admits students under schools of choice.
Grosse Pointe receives more than $9,700 per student in foundation allowance money from the state, and likely lost more than $437,000 when 45 students left last year. As more students leave, the district will continue to lose more state money.
Though there is no estimate of how many students are currently blocked out of Grosse Pointe schools, the district would likely gain a substantial amount of money if it opened its doors to nonresident students. Grosse Pointe could take measures to protect itself from an unmanageable increase in enrollment by placing limits on the number of students it would accept, based on classroom availability.
Instead, the public school district continues to refuse students and state money. For some students in nearby school districts, this can mean that they are unable to escape a school that is failing them. Are public schools serving the public interest if they aggressively police residency and fine students thousands of dollars for attempting to access a better education?