The Intersection: Impact of School Choice in Michigan

Region’s history of segregation, racism at play in how Michigan’s School Choice policy works in metro Detroit.

Metro Detroit students are attending increasingly segregated schools and districts, and Michigan’s School Choice law has allowed the dynamic to happen.

That’s according to Chastity Pratt Dawsey and Mike Wilkinson, both staff writers at Bridge Magazine, who joined Stephen Henderson on Detroit Today as part of WDET’s work with the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

The law, adopted in the 1990s, provides for students to attend another district or any charter school in their county or intermediate school district if that school or district opts into the Choice program. Per-pupil state funding follows the student to that school or district. Both the Grosse Pointe and Dearborn districts opt out of the program.

Dawsey and Wilkinson analyzed data about where students attend school. They compared the racial make up of a community with the racial make up of schools and districts, and found schools are becoming more segregated even as metro Detroit neighborhoods integrate. A searchable database allows audiences to examine their own communities.

“Racial isolation is increasing in these districts as people choose by design or action. They’re choosing places that are less diverse than the places they live,” Wilkinson says. “I don’t think it’s the intent of the policy. It’s the path parents increasingly took.”

Dawsey says the resistance to African-American students sharing classrooms with suburban kids is not limited to white residents. “You have black people who moved out who don’t want to see poor black people coming from the city either,” she says.

Henderson called the results “eye-popping” and said the report displayed an irony for him.

“In the ideal, School Choice could help us create less segregation of schools and districts, especially in metro Detroit where the racial divisions are so profound but because of the way it’s implemented, it’s actually made things worse,” he says. “The promise was for one thing and the reality is something else.”

Mike Wilkinson

Dawsey called School Choice the “new white flight.” Indeed, before the policy was enacted and so many charter schools opened, if parents wanted their children to attend a different school than the one in their community, they needed to pay for private school or move. “What choice has done is allowed you to remain in your house and move your kid,” Wilkinson says.

But that dynamic worries some experts Wilkinson and Dawsey talked to. If a voter feels too many “outsiders” are attending a suburb’s school, will they be less include to support millages?

“Why should I support a capital improvement bond? These aren’t my kids in this district,” is how Dawsey characterized a potential voter. “There’s a lot of negative or problematic consequence to what looked like idealistic policy to begin with.”

To hear the full conversation, click on the audio link above.



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