Political News

State spending on private students up 51 percent in 3 years

Posted 5:10 p.m. Tuesday
Updated 5:11 p.m. Tuesday

— Michigan spent $86 million last school year to help educate private school students in kindergarten through the 12th grade, a 51 percent increase from three years before, according to a report released Tuesday.

The spending, which is projected to grow to nearly $100 million this academic year, is allowed under the state's "share time" arrangement, which provides extra state aid to public schools that enroll nonpublic students part-time in non-core, elective classes.

While the number of shared-time students remains small, representing the equivalent of 11,300 full-time pupils out of 1.4 million public students statewide last year, the dual enrollment program's popularity is growing. The equivalent of 7,700 full-time shared-time pupils participated in the 2012-13 school year and nearly 3,000 signed up in 1999-2000.

Craig Thiel, senior research associate with the nonpartisan Citizens Research Council of Michigan, which released the update as a follow-up to a 2014 study, said it is a trend "worthy of notice" as public school enrollment continues to decline. The spending, which totaled $57 million three years ago, amounted to about $60 per Michigan public school pupil last year, he said.

About 68,000, or 60 percent, of Michigan's 114,000 private school and home-schooled students were enrolled part-time in a public school in 2015-16. The average nonpublic student spends roughly 10 percent of his or her school year attending classes provided by a public school.

The report identified 15 traditional districts or charter schools where the full-time equivalent of shared-time students accounted for at least 5 percent of total enrollment.

At the Madison Academy, a charter school in Flint, 43 percent of enrollment was nonpublic students. Brighton Area Schools, a traditional district in Livingston County, had the full-time equivalent of 1,400 private students — 19 percent of enrollment. The students lived in 161 different school districts, including Lansing, Saginaw and Ann Arbor.

Brighton, whose unprecedented growth in shared-time enrollment has helped erase a budget deficit, has recruited, hired and deployed instructors to teach in schools far beyond its boundaries, the study found.

This form of indirect aid to private schools has existed in Michigan since the 1920s and has been deemed legal by the courts, according to the report.

But Thiel said the nonprofit research organization published the new findings to "add some perspective" amid continued debate over Gov. Rick Snyder and lawmakers deciding for the first time to spend $2.5 million this fiscal year to assist private schools with the cost of complying with state requirements such as employee background checks, safety drills and required civics courses.

The Michigan Supreme Court this month rejected the Republican governor's request for an advisory opinion on whether directly sending the money to nonpublic schools is constitutional.

Public school advocates could still sue to block the spending.



Updated report on state support of nonpublic school students: http://bit.ly/2dMkubh


Follow David Eggert on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/author/david-eggert


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