What is School of Choice and How Does it Work in Michigan?

Have you heard this phrase before and wondered, 'What is school of choice?' Read this explainer on Michigan school of choice and how it works.

How Does School of Choice Work in Michigan?

Education jargon can be confusing to those of us who don’t work in schools. So many laws, tests and terms!

How about “school of choice”? This is a phrase parents may have heard – and it’s something that can actually be a benefit to those looking for more schooling options nearby.

School of choice Michigan

What is school of choice and how does school of choice work in Michigan?

School of choice basically means a school district has decided to accept students from outside the district’s typical boundaries. It’s up to the districts to decide whether they offer this option.

In Michigan, school of choice can mean a couple things, as there are multiple forms of choice, explains Brian Ciloski, a department analyst at the Michigan Department of Education.

Sections 105 and 105c of the State School Aid Act are the most common types of choice. Under section 105, districts can accept students who live in other districts, but within the same intermediate school district (ISD). An example would be if a student from one Oakland County city wanted to attend school in another Oakland County district, which both fall within the same ISD.

Section 105c allows students from another ISD to enroll in a school sharing a border with their district’s ISD.

Schools can choose to participate in one or both, explains Ciloski. Should districts enact sections 105 and/or 105c school of choice, they then have to follow specific state-mandated guidelines, which are listed here.

These programs could be unlimited in the number of students it accepts, or a district may only have a small amount of openings. “They can limit the number of seats by grade, by program or by building,” Ciloski says.

A couple other forms or choices include what Ciloski calls “intra-district choice,” which he explains is when, “parents want to select a specific building within the district. (It’s) completely up to the district to decide upon it.” There’s also something called “cooperative agreement choice,” which is an agreement between districts, he explains. MDE notes, “a cooperative choice agreement may limit the number of students participating in the program.”

Why school of choice?

Michigan school of choice was introduced in 1996. “I think that the legislature at the time was very much about allowing parents to have a choice in where their child was educated,” Ciloski says.

And that’s the perk of school of choice for parents and their kids. Simply, “it’s choice,” he says. “They’re able to exercise their choice of district.” It can open up options for students if their district doesn’t offer a specific program but a nearby one does, for example.

For schools, it can be a benefit to opt into school of choice, “because they’re going to have extra students in their count,” he says. This can be especially helpful for smaller school districts, districts that have been losing  students – or that simply have extra seats available.

Michigan school of choice process

The number of districts that choose to participate in school of choice varies based on the year. Parents can find a school of choice Michigan list on their local ISD’s website, which will list the participating districts for that school year.

Be sure to check the deadlines and timelines for each district’s school of choice application and enrollment process, Ciloski emphasizes. If you can’t find information through your county’s ISD, he adds, “(parents) can always go directly to the local district” to ask if the district is a school of choice participant.

This post was originally published in 2016 and is updated regularly. 

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