Schools of choice program provides flexibility in education

MARQUETTE — With the second semester coming up quickly, school districts are letting the public know about openings for students looking to move to another school through Michigan’s schools of choice program.

Schools of choice has been an option for school districts and students in Michigan since 1996. The program allows for more flexibility in choosing which school district, or even which building within a district, that families would like their children to be a part of.

Districts voluntarily participate in the program. They can decide on aspects such as the number of non-resident students they admit each semester and whether they want to accept kids from outside of the local intermediate school district.

“Every school district has the opportunity to determine a couple of things,” said Debra Asano, Associate Superintendent for Teaching, Learning, and Technology Services at Marquette Alger Regional Educational Service Agency. “One, whether they’re going to be a limited participation district or unlimited, and then to look at their program, facilities, and availability and decide which grade levels, which buildings, and which programs have that room and capacity to take non-resident students.”

Families may choose to change schools based on various factors, including proximity to another district or facility.

“In addition to the very practical — based on geography, family, jobs, childcare, those types of things — you would also look at, perhaps there’s a special program or feature within a school that meets your child’s strengths,” said Asano.

Non-resident students are accepted based on essentially the same criteria as any student moving into the district.

“If they’re interested in attending and you have listed an opening, you are required to take them,” Asano added. “It is truly a schools of choice for anyone interested in attending your district. That being said, a pupil that has been recently suspended or has ever been expelled, a district has a right to look at that and say, ‘No, that’s not something that we want to take on.'”

State funding for each student ends up going toward the school they choose to attend.

“Any time you have students moving from one place to another, the funding does follow the student in a very real sense,” Asano said. “We have a fall count day, and that fall count day triggers 90% of the state aid — the pupil membership or foundation allowance — and then the February count day triggers the additional 10%. So when a student does move and is in a new district on a count day, that district receives the per-pupil foundation.”

Those interested in taking advantage of the schools of choice program are encouraged to speak with the districts they are exploring to find out more details.