Capital News Service

of the Michigan State University School of Journalism

Children bounce more from school to school in tough economic times

By KATHLEEN LOFTUS
Capital News Service

LANSING– The economy’s downturn is triggering an increase in the number of children transferring between school districts, experts say.

Districts, schools and students are impacted due to parents’ job loss, evictions, foreclosures and moves to temporary housing.

The superintendent of public schools in Big Rapids, Thomas Langdon, said the trend shows student mobility was higher in the past year than five to 10 years ago.

Langdon said the transfer pattern is now routine for schools because of the economy.

It’s trying for everyone involved because people are forced to move and savings eventually run out, he said.

In recent years, families have moved because of adverse conditions, rather than for a better life or job Langdon said.

Bill Price, an Eastern Michigan University education professor, said the housing industry is devastated, and people who lost homes have relocated from their children’s districts.

Some schools in Michigan have an annual turnover rate of a third or more, Price said.

Ypsilanti Public School District public relations director Emma Jackson said transfer rates have increased lately.

Enrollment has dropped from 4,071 in 2006-07 to 3,804 in 2009-10 and is flat this year.

Jackson said, “There is not as big a dip in enrollment numbers as one would expect, but I would speculate that we have lost students due to moving from the area, but we are able to attract students from other areas to maintain close to previous enrollment numbers.”

Ypsilanti is a schools-of-choice district.  Almost 1,000 students who live outside the area have picked the district, Jackson said.

However, Price said there are other factors in the rising tide of transfers.

Others transfer because of school choice options that allow parents to send their children to other districts — often with better technology, facilities or athletics.

“No one is choosing to send their children to poor urban schools by choice. We are a mobile society, and parents opt out of particular districts to place kids in charter schools through inter-district transfer rights,” Price said.

“Education is a commodity — people shop and look for a place that meets their needs, whatever it may be.”

Price said frequent mobility is hard on children because they come in and leave at odd times, making it difficult for teachers to determine their academic development.

Sometimes, new arrivals struggle to find friends as well.

For schools, one hardship is being held accountable for students’ test scores.  Test performances can affect merit pay for teachers.

Price said it’s a dicey situation because scores are based on students teachers may not have had, yet schools are measured by standardized tests.

“When schools get new students and have nothing to do directly with their academic preparation, the scores still reflect back on the school.”

Price said some top-performing schools are constantly growing, but others are losing pupils.

“Kids show up on the doorstep and you take them. There is a constant increase with in-migration and out-migration, but it’s exacerbated by the economy and schools of choice. If a school loses a kid, money follows the student, not the school.”

Districts also face problems in planning for student mobility.  Although they can track past patterns, they don’t know who is coming until they show up, said Price.

Rep. Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City, said if students miss count day — the day the state counts children for appropriations — districts lose per-pupil aid.

Muxlow is a former teacher and counselor in the Lapeer County Intermediate School District.

Langdon, of Big Rapids, said budgeting has become strained as well.

“The budget is cut every year, but the needs get higher. Now we have less resources to accommodate people and programs such as aftercare,” he said

Langdon said that no matter whether students move from different states, cities or counties, the curriculum changes from district to district.

“Everyone wants to educate every child.  We want students in every seat, every day, every year,” he said.

“As you go further and further with this economy, there are more transits, and it’s hard to play catch up when one school teaches the breast stroke then have to learn butterfly at another.”

© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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Filed under: Education

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