Since September 2004, Charlotte Public Schools (CPS) has been losing students because of Schools of Choice.
The Michigan Schools of Choice program gives students the opportunity to choose which school district they would like to be a part of.
This year, CPS lost just under 250 students. The district has found that the reason students are leaving CPS is varies. Some leave because of problems within the transportation system, while others are leaving because their parents have had to find jobs elsewhere.
CPS loses most of its students Potterville Public Schools. This year, roughly 44 percent switched from Charlotte to Potterville. Nancy Hipskind, superintendent of CPS, believes this is because the geographic boundaries making up CPS are shaped in a way that makes transportation for a Potterville resident longer to go to a school in Charlotte. So instead, Potterville residents use the Schools of Choice program to go to school in Potterville.
“We lose more students to out of state schools than we do to any other district,” Hipskind said. She said that economic burdens facing the state have caused many parents to pick up and leave. This is causing districts within the state to compete with one another in an effort to keep students and state money, which is allocated based on the number of students in the district.
Hipskind and CPS Board of Education President Ron Scheultheiss both agreed that losing students is a problem when trying to get money from the government because of its per pupil ratio. “We’re in the lowest category,” said Hipskind, who estimated Charlotte’s rate to be in the lower-to-middle ends of $7000 per student.
The per pupil ratio is the amount of money that schools get for the number of students they have. CPS takes a district-wide “count day” for attendance three times a year – once in the fall, winter and spring. The more students in attendance on those days, the more money the school receives.
Hipskind said she would like to update textbooks and other auxiliary reading materials, and re-instate educational programs that have been eliminated. She would also like to give more money to programs that have seen cuts in funding, such as classes in the vocational department. This includes classes like woodshop, welding, architectural design/drafting, computer engineering and so on that are more career and technologically driven.
Additionally, as the state changes its required courses for graduation, it focuses less on fine arts – classes such as foreign language, art, music and theatre. “By the time that you [count up] all these [state] requirements, there’s no time for things like fine arts,” said Hipskind, who believes such classes are necessary to become a well-rounded adult. A decreasing focus on the fine arts could mean fewer students enrolling for the courses. If fewer students enroll, less funding would need to be appropriated to the department.
“I’m not against Schools of Choice, depending on how it’s used,” said Scheultheiss. “If it’s for academic reasons, it doesn’t matter one way or another.” However, the problem that Scheultheiss is referring to is that students are using the option to gain an edge in collegiate athletics. “[Schools of Choice] is a give and take situation; we try to keep it equal, but it has disadvantages to a degree,” said Scheultheiss.
While CPS continues to lose students each year, it still receives students from other districts through Schools of Choice. For instance, of the (approximately) 249 students it lost at the start of this school year, it also gained back 97 students through the Schools of Choice program. CPS also took in 88 students because of reasons unrelated to Schools of Choice, such as a special education cooperative, alternative education (such as home-schooling), homelessness, students switching from St. Mary’s private school and students that are children of CPS employees.
CPS experienced its largest net loss, 81 students, in September 2006. At the beginning of this school year, it had only lost around 56 students to other districts in mid-Michigan, such as East Lansing, Eaton Rapids, Eaton Intermediate School District, Grand Ledge, Island City Academy (in Eaton Rapids), Maple Valley, Olivet and of course, Potterville.
Scheultheiss and Hipskind have both approached the legislature about problems in the CPS district. “I have had a conversation with our [district] representative, and will continue to have conversations [about funding],” said Hipskind. “Public education needs to become a priority if we are going to have [any] future.”