News Story

Tuition Talks At Wealthy Public School District

Birmingham says ‘No’ to students from nearby districts, unless they bring tuition payments

One of the best-funded school districts in Michigan, located in one of the most affluent communities in the state, has elected not to participate in a state program meant to expand the options parents have.

Under the state’s Schools of Choice law, parents who live in one school district can enroll their children in a nearby district if it has space and wants to accept them. In most cases, state school aid dollars “follow the student” from their home district to the district they attend.

Though the Birmingham Public Schools district doesn’t participate in Schools of Choice, it does enroll some students who live outside its jurisdiction. That’s because Michigan law provides another way for school boards to enroll students who aren’t residents of their district, the state or even the United States. They can rely on parents who can afford to pay hefty tuition charges.

During the past three school years, the Birmingham district enrolled an average of 145 nonresident students, whose parents paid tuition charges of $11,500 for elementary grade children and as much as $13,400 for high school students.

The district is located in a wealthy Oakland County suburb where the mean household income in 2018 was $114,537. Just 4.4 percent of Birmingham residents fall below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census data.

According to state data, Birmingham schools receive $15,055 per student in local, state, and federal funding. The state average was $10,195.

A total of 8,072 students were enrolled in the district during the 2018-19 academic year. Of these, just 8.76 percent had a household income that made them eligible to receive a free or reduced price school lunch.

“Birmingham is in a very practical sense a private school,” said Michael Van Beek, director of research at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. “Tuition costs the amount of a mortgage in Birmingham — or $13k through this program if you can’t get a mortgage.”

Since tuition is steep and the Birmingham district does not participate in Schools of Choice, it is unlikely that children from families who live outside its boundaries and are not affluent would be able to attend school there.

Birmingham Public Schools Superintendent Mark Dziatczak didn’t respond to an email seeking comment on why the district doesn’t participate in Schools of Choice.

When the district’s Rick Joseph, Michigan’s 2015 teacher of the year, was asked what he thinks about the district’s tuition costs and its refusal to participate in the Schools of Choice program, he said, “This has always been the case. Has something new arisen lately?”

In an essay in Bridge Magazine, Joseph gave his opinion of why school districts in poor cities like Detroit and Pontiac should get more taxpayer support. He did so by highlighting the advantages children enjoy in an affluent municipality.

“In Birmingham, I am able to access or obtain nearly any resource my students require. All of my students’ parents graduated from high school, and most have a college degree. Kids typically come to school well-fed. The majority of my students arrived in kindergarten knowing their letters, numbers and shapes and several knew how to read. Students typically travel widely, and many have been abroad. College-educated parents are always willing to volunteer in various capacities. There are few threats to students’ safety at home, on the suburban streets where they play, or at school. If a child has a health issue, they are no more than 10 minutes away from a world-class medical facility. The students in Birmingham are predominantly well-represented people of European or Asian descent. The standardized test scores in my school are consistently among the highest in the state.”