Michigan Students Need Private School Choice

Families want more options

While students in 23 states have access to private school choice, Michigan lags behind.

Not only is educational choice limited to public schools, but the Michigan Constitution actually prohibits any public benefit from being used to help students attend a private school (other than transportation). No other state constitution is more restrictive.

In a state with a constitution so hostile to private school choice, it is noteworthy when an elected official makes a stand for substantial change. In a recent Detroit Free Press op-ed, Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Twp., said the next step for Michigan schools is private school choice.

While efforts to free up the educational system typically draw the ire of Michigan labor unions and those in the educational establishment, private school choice is the right thing to do for Michigan students. And yet, almost all Michigan policymakers are silent on this issue.

There is a desperate need for private school choice. In a survey of 600 Detroit residents, Excellent Schools Detroit found that every one of them supported more scholarships and financial aid for students to attend private schools, with 95 percent supporting tax benefits for businesses that offer such scholarships. Similarly, a national poll conducted in 2013 found that nearly 70 percent of moms with children support tax credit scholarships for students.

Private school choice has the potential to help students throughout the state access better schools. Already, Michigan parents are opting for educational choice when it is available: About one out of every six Michigan students uses public school choice to attend either a public charter school or a conventional school outside of their resident district.

And there is evidence that students and parents are using this system to access a better education. A 2013 Stanford University study found that Michigan public charter school students were significantly outperforming their peers attending conventional schools.

Evidence from the state's Schools of Choice program, which enables students to attend school in a district other than the one in which they live, also is positive. Mackinac Center for Public Policy research finds that students use Schools of Choice to enter districts with higher test scores and graduation rates.

Michigan already has posted promising results from its public education choice system. Just imagine the positive academic benefits students would realize if the state allowed private school choice. Nationally, 11 of 12 random assignment studies of private school choice systems have found positive effects, including higher graduation and college attendance rates. Some of these studies found especially large benefits for African-American students.

The Mackinac Center has long advocated for private school choice. In 1997, the Center proposed a universal tuition tax credit for education — public or private. The proposal would have capped an educational tax credit at 50 percent of the amount public schools receive for educating a student, with an immediate phase-in for low-income families.

Unfortunately, some may still feel that preserving the current educational system is more politically palatable than a system with the potential to dramatically improve educational outcomes and save state taxpayers a significant amount of money.

Though Michigan parents and students would see large academic benefits from private school choice, they must wait until the political winds change. Hopefully, Rep. Kelly's op-ed is a sign that such change is beginning.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.