Michigan’s recent winter storms shed light on some of the unique relationships that can exist between a local public K-12 school district and the private and religious (nonpublic) schools located with the district’s boundaries. The storms and frigid temperatures caused districts to cancel classes for a number of days, and many nonpublic schools were forced to follow suit. For some nonpublic schools, the decision to close was related to the fact that the public school district, which canceled classes, delivers educational services to, and provides transportation for, the nonpublic schools’ students.

Michigan law forbids direct public support of nonpublic schools; however, it allows state support of nonpublic school students enrolled in public schools. Students attending nonpublic elementary and secondary schools have long been able to enroll part time in public schools (both traditional public and charter schools) and receive instruction in non-core curriculum offerings. Student instruction in elective courses such as physical education, art, technology, and foreign languages is financed by the state dollars that public school districts receive through the per-pupil foundation grant that has been in place since adoption of Proposal A in 1994. The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that such arrangements do not violate the state constitutional prohibition against “parochiaid” — direct state support of nonpublic schools. CRC’s new report, State Support of Nonpublic School Students, examines the history of Michigan’s policy behind “shared time” instruction, how it differs from “parochiaid,” and participation in the program.

“It is easy, upon hearing about ’shared time’ instruction, to conflate the issue with ’parochiaid,’” said Craig Thiel of CRC. “The two are different in form and very different from a legal perspective.”

CRC’s new report documents the observed growth in participation and possible reasons for such growth, including the financial incentives created by the per-pupil foundation grant. The report highlights how “shared time” enrollment affects state School Aid Fund finances, as well as the finances of individual districts. Some districts have increased their participation as a way to supplement traditional revenue streams and help them manage through difficult financial times. The report also discusses public policy issues raised by the mechanics of “shared time,” particularly the per-pupil funding that accompanies nonpublic school student enrollment in public schools.

“Participation in ’shared time’ is at an all-time high with the state paying an estimated $57 million in fiscal year 2013 to educate nonpublic school students,” said Craig Thiel. “Enrollment in ’shared time’ instruction continues to grow, even though statewide public school enrollment has been declining for years. This is a trend worth taking notice of.”

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