News Story

Michigan Celebrates School Choice

Students flood the Capitol for 'National School Choice Week'

LANSING — One out of five students in Michigan takes advantage of school choice – mostly in the form of charter schools, public school district choice, homeschooling, or private schools. In 2015, school choice is part of this state's educational mainstream.

This week is National School Choice Week. Across America diverse groups are celebrating the freedom of parents and guardians to choose where and how their children will acquire an education. In Michigan, the main event took place in Lansing.

Here is a photo slideshow of the activities.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Great Lakes Education Project, and Michigan Association of Public School Academies teamed up with National School Choice Week sponsors to bring supporters and students to the Capitol. Filmmaker Bob Bowdon made a visit to show and discuss his latest documentary, “The Ticket.”

“Different kinds of children thrive under different kinds of educational environments,” Bowdon said.

“The Ticket” shows the many ways school choice is provided. Among these are innovations like "parent trigger” laws, where parents are empowered to force remedies on chronically failing schools that refuse to change. Another is homeschooling, which was mostly illegal across much of the nation a few decades ago, but is increasing in popularity today due in part to educational co-ops. Public school district choice is another method. Michigan’s Schools of Choice program was first authorized in 1996, and lets students attend school districts other than just the one to which they are assigned by ZIP code.

In 2011, an artificial cap was lifted on the number of charter schools in Michigan, which are public schools that have been freed from restrictive mandates such as being forced to engage in collective bargaining with teachers unions.

While vouchers are prohibited in Michigan by a state constitutional amendment adopted in 1970, programs in 13 other states allow participating parents to take some of the money that would be spent to teach their children at a conventional public school and use it to send them to a school they choose – including a private school and often a Catholic school. In 17 states, taxpayers can take advantage of income tax deductions or credits that encourage school choice. A new kid on the block in school choice options is online learning or “cyber schools,” where technology allows students, especially those with unique educational circumstances or seeking an escape from bullying, to gain wide access to educational opportunities.

After watching the documentary, the chair of the Michigan Senate education policy committee, Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, spoke about the expansion of educational opportunities in the state. Pavlov was instrumental in removing the arbitrary cap on charter schools, which just a few years ago had generated a 10,000-student waiting list and forced children into enrollment lotteries.

“I’m a big believer in the idea that parents make the best choices for where to educate their kids,” Pavlov said. “We need to put the students first in the equation.”

Then, about 150 students packed the Capitol rotunda to celebrate the choices in schooling they now enjoy. A choir and a step team from Bradford Academy in Southfield performed, as did a dance team from the West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics in Spring Lake. Aviation and robotics teams from other charter schools, like the West Michigan Aviation Academy in Grand Rapids and FlexTech High in Brighton, displayed their work.

James Smith, a senior at the aviation school, said he heard about the school through his mother when it was getting off the ground in 2010. There is a lottery to get into the school and he’s thrilled to be there.

“Students take all of the normal classes that you would take anywhere, but there is a focus on aviation,” Smith said, adding that the school also offers engineering and robotics programs.

His classmate Lexie Asbury started at the school as a sophomore after going on a private flight with her grandfather and being inspired to learn to fly.

“It’s a chance to do what I love,” she said.

Taryn Winfrey and Daija Hayes sing in the choir for Bradford Academy. They both began attending the charter school in grade school because their families believed it to be the best educational opportunity in the area where they live.

“It’s a smaller school and I love the music programs,” Hayes said.

Cathy Cantu is the school director for the West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics. “We believe many students learn best across multiple modalities,” Cantu said. “We feature all the classes of any schools, but music, dance, and the arts intersect across the subjects.”

Every student had a different explanation for how they ended up exercising the choice to attend a school their family selected rather than one to which they were assigned. All of them were grateful their families had the opportunity to choose.


A video of some of the students:

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.