A School Choice in Michigan

Teachers and students at an elementary school in Michigan.


Emily Elconin / Bloomberg News

Education choice is becoming a clear political boundary in many states, and one place to watch is Michigan. New evidence strengthens the case for pushing to overturn Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s veto.

Last fall, the GOP-controlled Legislature passed the Student Opportunity Scholarship Program that provides up to $7,800 toward private school tuition or educational expenses such as tutoring. This program is intended primarily for lower- and middle-income families and offers dollar-denominated tax credits in return for scholarship contributions. The total annual cost of the tax credits is capped at $500 million.

A new report from the Mackinac Center, an educational choice advisory organization, suggests the program could reduce costs for the state. Modeling four scenarios, researchers Ben DeGrow and Martin Lueken found the program could cost taxpayers as little as $106 million or save them as much as $386 million. Compare that to the nearly $6 billion the state received for schools in the federal Covid relief and $17.1 billion K-12 education budget.

Savings are possible because the state ensures that school districts are funded at least $8,700 per student. The maximum amount the state will pay for an opportunity scholarship is about 90% of that cost.

School districts can save money because they spend less on variable expenses when students move to private schools. The authors calculate that short-term variable costs from classroom instruction and services such as counseling and professional development amount to $8,755 per student — greater than the loss in revenue of 8,700 dollars incurred by school districts for the loss of a student.

The calculation depends on what the authors call the “conversion rate,” which is the percentage of students using private school scholarships who will enroll in public schools. With a 60% conversion rate and an average scholarship amount of $6,000, taxpayers would lose $1,414 per scholarship, the authors found. But with a 90% conversion rate — an estimate supported by other research — and a $4,000 scholarship the taxpayer would save $3,435 per scholarship.

The authors do not take into account scholarship money that may be used by district school students for additional activities, which would add to program costs for the state (although this amount is at most $ 1,100 per student). Budget negotiations can also affect how school districts are funded.

This analysis is consistent with other studies. Lueken’s separate study of 40 private education choice programs across the United States found that the programs saved state and local taxpayers $28.3 billion. EdChoice, a nonprofit that supports school choice, reports that of 73 studies on the financial impact of choice programs, 68 showed positive effects.

Ms. Whitmer has vetoed the GOP bill, but a signature petition is underway with a June 1 deadline. With approximately 500,000 signatures for each of the two related petitions, the scholarship can be directed to the Legislature for approval without the Governor’s signature.

Many Michigan students have fallen behind during the pandemic, and the Detroit Free Press reported last month that school districts have been using Covid money for everything from tennis courts to smoothies. The scholarship program provides a life raft for these students without burdening taxpayers.

The Editorial Review: Best and Worst of the Week from Kim Strassel, Kyle Peterson and Dan Henninger. Image: Reuters / Getty Images Synthesis: Mark Kelly

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-school-choice-in-michigan-opportunity-scholarship-program-mackinac-center-report-gretchen-whitmer-11652479504 A School Choice in Michigan

Alley Einstein

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