Understanding school choice in Michigan
A look at the current options and upcoming opportunities
Following a national trend, school choice is becoming increasingly popular among Michigan’s families.
School choice seeks to individualize learning by creating opportunities for parents to individualize learning for their children. Common school choice programs include public charter schools, private schools, public magnet schools, virtual schooling, homeschooling and community pods, education savings accounts (ESAs), school vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and individual tax credits.
The current one-size-fits all style of public education isn’t working, but school choice would put decision-making into the hands of those who know children best – their parents. Michigan spends an average of $13,071 per year on each student in public school, but the state consistently ranks at the bottom third of education performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The pandemic has exposed and exacerbated problems with the current educational landscape. [add link to “how the pandemic showed us we need school choice”] Parents in Michigan have realized that they don’t have enough say about the environment in which their children are taught.
What options does Michigan already have in place for school choice?
While Michigan does not offer robust school choice options, it does provide some opportunities for families to tailor education to their children’s needs.
Michigan’s open enrollment program – called “Schools of Choice” – allow for families to choose another school within their same school district (intradistrict) or in another district (interdistrict). In 2015, about 23% of Michigan students utilized the Schools of Choice program to attend the school that best fit their needs.
Charter schools are public schools which are privately managed. During the 2018-2019 school year, 146,420 students in Michigan were enrolled in charter schools, the vast majority of which (75.9%) faced socio-economic challenges.
Magnet schools are public schools which focus on one area of expertise, such as math, science or art. Because of the specialized learning, students must be accepted in order to transfer to a magnet school. In the 2013-2014 school year, there were an impressive 211,577 Michigan students enrolled in Magnet schools.
Homeschooling and Learning Pods
In the United States, any family can choose to homeschool their children although they are subject to state laws and regulations. It’s hard to know the exact amount of students in Michigan being homeschooled, because Michigan doesn’t require parents to notify authorities when doing so. Before the pandemic, homeschoolers made up an estimated 5.3% of students, a number which jumped to 11.3% since the pandemic.
Learning pods are small groups of students from the community who meet for schooling and have become a popular way to combat educational issues associated with the pandemic. Innovators in Michigan have even created programs where parents can hire teachers to lead the pods. Edchoice, who tracks public opinion on learning pods, has seen a third of survey participants note interest in learning pods since September.
Opposition to opportunity
Gov. Whitmer has been an active opponent of school choice policies, recently vetoing a bill passed by Michigan’s House and Senate that sought to create a tax-credit program. The program would have funded scholarships that families could use for educational purposes such as tutors, educational materials and equipment or third-party education programs.