Study Finds MA Inter-District School Choice Program a Success, but Should Be Updated

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on
LinkedIn
+

Policy makers should raise tuition rate, cap on program enrollment

BOSTON – With little fanfare or controversy, Massachusetts’ inter-district school choice program has allowed students to access better schools and spurred competition between districts, but the 27-year-old choice law should be updated to ensure the program’s continuing success, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

“By providing a way for school districts to fill empty seats and allowing them to have sufficient enrollment to sustain niche programs, inter-district choice is a vehicle for delivering better and more efficient K-12 public education,” said Jamie Gass, director of Pioneer’s Center for School Reform.

In Inter-district School Choice in Massachusetts, author Roger Hatch writes that districts choosing to accept choice students receive $5,000 plus any additional special education costs from the sending district.  When the special education increment and the Commonwealth’s two virtual schools (which are funded through the choice program and have an annual tuition rate of $6,700) are included, the average tuition was $6,123 in fiscal year 2017.

The choice program has grown steadily, from less than 1,000 students in FY 1992 to over 16,000 in FY 2017.  Admission is by lottery if districts are over-subscribed.

Inter-district choice enrollment is capped at 2 percent of statewide public school enrollment and currently accounts for 1.71 percent of overall enrollment. If the program continues to grow at its current pace, it will bump up against the cap in the next four-to-six years.

A Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) analysis of 2014 MCAS scores found that, on average, choice students outperform resident students in the accepting district.

Inter-district choice is most popular in rural areas and on Cape Cod.  Choice students account for half the enrollment in Petersham public schools and over 40 percent in Richmond and Provincetown.

Because students are counted in the sending district’s state funding allotment, known as Chapter 70, certain school districts realize an overall funding increase even when they lose students to another school district.  In these 70 districts that receive the bulk of their education funding from the Commonwealth, the $5,000 choice tuition is less than their per-pupil allotment.

Noting that the tuition payment has never gone up in the program’s 27-year history and that state and local budgets have more than doubled during that time, Hatch recommends that the $5,000 payment should rise and that policy makers should reach agreement about the increments and pace of the increase.

“We need to strike a balance that incentivizes high-performing school districts to accept school choice students but maintains the fiscal stability of sending districts,” Roger Hatch said.

He also recommends raising the cap on program enrollment, which is set at 2 percent of statewide public school enrollment.

No regulations have ever been promulgated for the inter-district choice program.  Hatch calls on DESE to establish regulations once the law is updated to provide guidance for districts that administer the program and parents and students who are weighing their choice options.

About the Author

Roger Hatch spent a long career working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the areas of school and municipal finance. For 20 years he was the Administrator of School Finance at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.  In addition to supervising the school choice program, the office works with the Governor’s staff, the legislature, advocacy groups, local officials and the general public, to develop, calculate, and explain the Chapter 70 state aid formula.

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

Get Updates on Our School Choice Research

Related Posts

Dr. Howard Fuller on School Choice & Presidential Politics

/
Cara and Bob talk withthe the great Dr. Howard Fuller, Distinguished Professor of Education, about his passionate activism on behalf of education reform, his concerns about the lack of support among Democratic presidential candidates for charter schools & more!

VIDEO: Making a Difference Through METCO

A new video about the METCO program centers around the friendship between two Wayland High School students; one who lives in Wayland and the other from Boston. It also features interviews with METCO CEO Milly Arbaje-Thomas and Mabel Reid-Wallace, Director of Wayland's METCO program.

Press Release: Choice Media, Pioneer Institute, and Ricochet Announce New Education Podcast

“The Learning Curve” to feature Bob Bowdon, Cara Candal,…

Tackling equity at Boston’s exam schools

/
By Jim Stergios August 2, 2019 This spring, The New York Times…

Pioneer Alert: Supreme Court Will Rule on Highly Significant School Choice Case

/
Today, the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) announced that it would…

Study Finds Student Growth Percentile Is Unreliable, Limits Access to Charter Public Schools

High degree of error, especially in small school districts, leads…

Pioneer Public Statement on Legislative Demise of New Bedford Charter School Deal

This past week, in a display of the state’s teacher unions'…

Nationally Syndicated Columnist George Will Covers Pioneer's SCOTUS Amicus Brief Topic on School Choice

/
For many years, Pioneer Institute has been a leader in the effort…

Guglielmo Marconi and the importance of innovation and choice in education

/
By Jamie Gass and Ze'ev Wurman May 1, 2019 This op-ed appeared…

Pioneer Institute Files Amicus Brief Urging Supreme Court to Hear School Choice Case

Claims amendment to Montana Constitution motivated by anti-Catholic…

State DPH Continues to Deny Private School Students Millions in School Nurse Services

State should establish a fund to provide partial support for…

Study: Financial Impact of Charter Schools Depends on Percentage of Funding Districts Receive from State

“Foundation” districts unaffected, but charter tuition may…

Public Statement on Alma del Mar Charter School Expansion

Last night, Jeffrey Riley, the Massachusetts Commissioner of…

Study: After-School Programs Can Help Improve Flat or Declining Math Achievement

Philanthropic, other organizations should consider providing…

New Bedford Mayor Flip-Flops on Charter Support

The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted New Bedford’s…

New Book on Massachusetts Charter Public Schools Touts Record of Achievement, Minimal Impact on District Finances

Recommendations Include Promoting Innovation, Removing Limits…