Date Approved

1-20-2016

Date Posted

9-14-2016

Degree Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Leadership and Counseling

Committee Member

William Price, Ph.D., Chair

Committee Member

Barbara Bleyaert, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Theresa Saunders, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Derrick Fries, Ph.D.

Abstract

The purpose of this research was to study how the controversial yet expanding use of school choice affects traditional public schools' finances and socioeconomic and racial/ethnic student demographics. This mixed-methods study analyzed traditional public school districts in two Michigan counties in 2009/10 and 2013/14, answering three research questions: 1) Are the finances in districts with greater concentrations of student poverty and diversity more affected by choice than districts with lesser concentrations of student poverty and diversity? 2) Is there a relationship between choice impact and the socioeconomic and racial/ethnic concentration of student populations? and 3) What are superintendents' perceptions of the impact of choice on the changing student demographics within the districts?

Research Question One grouped districts by levels of net choice impact, student poverty, and student diversity, comparing these independent variables with eight financial dependent variables. The null hypothesis was rejected if the majority of the eight financial variables were significant. Question One found that finances of a district were statistically significant only when compared to levels of student poverty and diversity and only in 2009/10. However, when examined through the lens of supporting the most vulnerable student populations and when looking at the two most arguably important financial variables -- per-pupil total revenues and fund balance as a percentage of total revenues -- other relevant findings emerged. There were no findings of significance between per-pupil total revenues and levels of high negative net choice and high-poverty districts, despite the increased needs of these populations. These two populations also experienced statistically lower fund balances as a percentage of total revenues, indicating greater levels of fiscal distress.

Research Question Two compared net choice impact against levels of student poverty and diversity. Question Two found significantly greater negative net choice impact for high-poverty districts in both 2009/10 and 2013/14 and high-diversity districts in 2013/14. Research Question Three was addressed by interviewing seven superintendents. Interviews included feedback indicating that student demographics changed quickly and significantly and revealed concerns about the ability to meet student needs and maintain community support. When combined, these findings indicate that districts with vulnerable populations are experiencing significant challenges.

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