News Story

Grosse Pointe Schools’ Lower Enrollment In Part Their Choice

A state law and program offers another way to fill empty desks

The Grosse Pointe public school district is struggling financially due to a decline in enrollment, according to a recent Detroit Free Press column. District Superintendent Gary Niehaus was quoted in the story saying the enrollment decline was unsustainable.

“It’s not sustainable, and that’s the bottom line to it,” Niehaus says. “It’s not sustainable, and you have to build sustainability ... and that’s something we have to spend some time talking through.”

School districts cannot affect enrollment by controlling how many people move into or out of their jurisdictions, or how many children those people have. But state law does give them another tool to affect enrollment, and it’s called Schools of Choice. This lets parents who live in one school district choose to send their children — and the state school aid money that follows them — to a nearby district that has open seats. But the Grosse Pointe Public School System has chosen not to participate in Schools of Choice.

According to state data, Grosse Pointe’s enrollment has fallen from 8,399 students in the 2010-11 school year to 7,638 in 2018-19. Grosse Pointe receives $10,104 for every student who attends the district. The $10,104 is called the foundation allowance, and it is a blend of local and state dollars intended to cover the cost of operating a school for a year. The loss of 761 students over eight years equates to about $7.7 million each year.

Nearby school districts have offered Schools of Choice slots and have received the revenue they bring. Allen Park Public Schools enrolled 1,060 nonresident students, of which 42 came from the Detroit Public Schools Community District. Students from outside the district accounted for 28 percent of Allen Park’s 2017-18 enrollment.

Eastpointe Community Schools had 393 nonresident students, of which 303 came from the Detroit district. These students accounted for 13.5 percent of Eastpointe’s 2017-18 enrollment.

“The easiest way for Grosse Pointe schools to turn back its steady enrollment losses would be to accept students from other areas through the Schools of Choice program,” said Ben DeGrow, director of education policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “Giving nearby families another educational choice that doesn’t require taking on hefty mortgage payments would enable the district to bring in more funds and serve more students of different backgrounds.”

Despite the decline in enrollment, Grosse Pointe Public Schools still gets more state dollars than it did eight years ago. The school system received $64.2 million in state funds (not including local and federal money) in 2010-11 with an enrollment of 8,399. In 2018-19, it received $67.5 million in state funds – or $3.3 million more than 2010-11, even with 761 fewer students.