All Decisions are Local: How District Rules Can Promote or Restrict School Choices

By Danielle Sanderson Edwards and Joshua Cowen. Last Updated: June 2020

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While most national attention surrounding school choice has centered on families’ decisions to enroll in charter schools, students can also enroll in neighboring school districts outside of their home districts through interdistrict choice programs. We examine Michigan’s statewide interdistrict choice program known as “Schools of Choice.” A particular feature of Michigan’s Schools of Choice program is that districts that participate in Schools of Choice can place limits on the number of students they will accept and in which grades, schools, and programs, set enrollment deadlines, and decide whether or not to offer transportation to non-resident students. Such local discretion has the potential to create unequal access to school choice. We analyze original data collected from 84% of Michigan districts as well publicly available school-level data to report differences in local rules and regulations governing Schools of Choice. We find that most districts that participate in Schools of Choice limit participation of nonresident students, one-third require enrollment as early as the previous spring or winter, and few districts provide transportation to non-resident students. Districts located near poorer districts or districts with higher rates of students of color—especially those located around metropolitan areas—require early deadlines and restrict access to school transportation for students living outside of their districts.


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