03/13/2012 09:45 pm ET

East Detroit School Board Opens District To All Wayne County Students

The East Detroit School Board voted Monday to expand its participation in the state's Schools of Choice Program. But not everyone was pleased with the decision to open the district to outside students, with one board member voicing concerns that the district could suffer from "white flight" under the new program.

The school board voted 5-2 to include all Wayne County schools, including Detroit Public Schools, in the program, which allows non-resident students to enroll in the district, WWJ reports.

Board member Jon Gruenberg voted against the measure Monday, arguing that it would lead to a depopulation of the district and its home city of Eastpointe. He seems to think an influx of students from Detroit and other Wayne County districts would push parents to move their children out of the East Detroit Schools and into other Schools of Choice.

"Schools of Choice, I think, does absolutely nobody any good," said Gruenberg, according to the Associated Press. "We have seen the second wave of white flight because of these districts of choice."

In late February, the district voted to join Schools of Choice, but limited its open-door policy to Macomb county residents.

East Detroit was the last of Macomb county's 21 districts to enter into the arrangement, and the board's vote was partly spurred by a decline in the district's own enrollment as Eastpointe students move to classrooms elsewhere.

School officials claimed opening up the district could attract up to 600 students and up to $4 million state education funds, but critics like board President Craig Wodecki doubted any gains were possible without the participation of Wayne County schools.

Schools of Choice have been favored by officials at the highest levels of state government. Last year, Gov. Rick Snyder pushed an ultimately unsuccessful effort to extend the Schools of Choice program statewide. State Sen. Phil Pavlov (R-St. Clair), who chairs the body's education committee, also backed that effort.

"We have to expand choice to empower parents to make sure they get the very best education for their kids," he told MLive at the time.

Critics of the program have charged it endangers public education by pitting schools in different districts against one another in a competition for students.

Author Natalie Hopkinson said in a December Op-Ed in The New York Times that a similar school choice program in Washington D.C. had "destroyed community-based education for working-class families, even as it has funneled resources toward a few better-off, exclusive, institutions."