Over the River and through the Woods: The Role of Distance in Participation in Rural School Choice

Edwards, D.S. (2021) Journal of School Choice.

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Although there exists a large body of literature concerning the impacts of school choice policies, few studies focus on the choices of rural students. Using a unique dataset that includes administrative records, geocoded addresses, and commute times for Michigan public school students over 6 years, I describe who participates in interdistrict choice in rural Michigan, where 15% of rural students attend a nonresident district. In particular, I examine the roles of commute time and school closures in choice decisions – two factors that may be particularly salient in rural communities. I find that gaps in participation in interdistrict choice between rural and non-rural districts exist in kindergarten and persist across grades. Furthermore, I provide evidence that students who live farther away from their assigned school have lower opportunity costs to participate in interdistrict choice especially in rural districts. Also, school closures may induce students living farther away from their assigned school to attend a nonresident district in remote rural areas.

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