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

Widow of Civil Rights Icon, Dr. Sephira Shuttlesworth on Desegregating Schools & Racial Equity

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dr. Sephira Shuttlesworth, a retired teacher and charter school leader, and the widow of the late Birmingham, Alabama, civil rights leader, the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth.

Education tax credit programs extend choice to families who can’t afford private schools or to move to a tony community

/
Thanks to the Supreme Court’s Espinoza ruling, many more students can reap the benefits of school choice

Boston Uni.’s Dr. Charles Glenn on School Choice, Civil Rights, & Espinoza

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Dr. Charles Glenn, Professor Emeritus of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Boston University. Dr. Glenn shares his early experiences in the Civil Rights movement, and how it inspired his work to expand school choice, as well as his thoughts on the Espinoza Supreme Court case's impact on racial justice and religious liberty.

Lead Plaintiff Kendra Espinoza & IJ’s Attorney Erica Smith on Landmark SCOTUS School Choice Decision

/
This week, in a special segment of “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are honored to be joined by Kendra Espinoza, lead plaintiff in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, just decided yesterday, Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, and Erica Smith, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which represented the plaintiffs.

Public Statement: Pioneer Institute Applauds U.S. Supreme Court Ruling in Espinoza School Choice Case

Pioneer Institute applauds today’s U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down a bigoted state constitutional amendment in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. Like Massachusetts, Montana is among nearly 40 states with so-called anti-aid amendments, which have roots in 19th century anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant discrimination.

U-Arkansas Prof. Patrick Wolf on School Choice, Espinoza, & Students’ Civic Prep

/
U-Arkansas Prof. Patrick Wolf joins The Learning Curve to discuss school choice, the Supreme Court's Espinoza case, & students’ civic preparation.

Homeschooling Expert Kerry McDonald on Harvard Law Professor Controversy & COVID

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are happy to be joined by Kerry McDonald, a homeschooling expert and Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education, on the major lessons we all should be learning from this educational moment, now that COVID has turned most of America’s 50 million schoolchildren and their families into "homeschoolers."

Ashley Berner of Johns Hopkins on Academic Quality, Educational Pluralism, & the Providence Public Schools

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Ashley Berner, Deputy Director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy. 

Christensen Institute Co-founder Michael Horn on Digital Learning & COVID-19

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Michael Horn, co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.

The Institute for Justice's Tim Keller on Espinoza v. Montana DOR & ongoing school choice litigation

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Tim Keller, Senior Attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is representing the plaintiffs in the high-profile Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court,.

The Washington Post’s Jay Mathews on schooling during COVID-19 & lessons from teaching great Jaime Escalante

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard continue coverage of COVID-19’s impact on K-12 education, joined by Jay Mathews, Washington Post education columnist.

NC State's Anna Egalite on School Choice in America & Abroad

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Dr. Anna Egalite, Assistant Professor at North Carolina State University, about her experiences and research on K-12 education systems in her native Ireland, as well as America and India.

Kevin Chavous on the Promise & Potential of Quality School Choice Options

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard are joined by Kevin Chavous, President of Academics, Policy, and Schools of K12, Inc. about how to promote quality education options that meet the diverse needs of all kids.

Citizen Stewart on Changing the K-12 Education Power Structure

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard engage in a candid conversation about education policymaking with Citizen Stewart, Chief Executive Officer of Brightbeam.

CREDO’s Macke Raymond on Charter Schools’ Quality & Growth

/
CREDO's Margaret “Macke” Raymond joins "The Learning Curve" this week to discuss charter school performance; the types of charters that are succeeding consistently and replicating; and the formula for quality both in instruction and policymaking.

Cato's Neal McCluskey on School Choice & Educational Federalism

/
This week on "The Learning Curve" podcast, Cara Candal welcomes new co-host Gerard Robinson and guest Neal McCluskey, Director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. They discuss America’s growing interest in school choice, and some of its many benefits.

Julie Young, Virtual Schooling Pioneer

/
Julie Young, CEO of ASU Prep Digital High School, joins The Learning Curve podcast this week to talk about the digital learning revolution.

Susan Wise Bauer on Classical Education & Homeschooling

/
This week on “The Learning Curve,” Bob Bowdon & guest co-host Kerry McDonald talk with Susan Wise Bauer, writer, historian, homeschool parent, and author of The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, as well as numerous other books.