NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Michigan Study: School Choice Creates Educational Opportunities

October 26, 1999

Charter schools and educational voucher programs don't result in "academic creaming" as opponents had predicted, according to a new study from the University of Michigan. In fact, the state's school-choice programs created new educational opportunities for many needy students, the report said.

Last year, 3 percent of Michigan students took advantage of school-choice programs -- with 34,000 attending one of the state's 138 charter schools, and another 15,000 attending a school outside their home district. This year, some 50,000 children may be in Michigan charter schools, giving it the third largest charter population after Arizona and California.

Researchers found that school choice and inter-district transfers created serious problems for only a few of the state's school districts. And despite predictions that choice programs would attract only the brightest students and leave behind the least motivated, that did not happen in Michigan.

But the researchers note that different rules "create different incentives and different outcomes" in school choice programs. For instance,

  • Michigan charter schools favored students who were the cheapest to educate -- those who are younger, rather than teen-agers who require expensive equipment such as science labs, athletic gear, extensive libraries and specialized teachers.
  • Most charter start-ups have been elementary schools, and that may be because Michigan pays schools a flat fee of nearly $6,000 per student, regardless of age.
  • But because charter admissions are by lottery in Michigan, the state has more charters in urban districts serving more poor and minority students.

By contrast, in California, where charters are allowed to select their students, most charters are in suburbs or small towns.

Source: Tamar Lewin, "In Michigan, School Choice Weeds Out Costlier Students," New York Times, October 26, 1999.


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