China’s monumental volume of labor migration has led to a rise in the migrant children population in urban China. In this study, we examine school choices for migrant children (ages 6–12) using data from a nationally representative survey. We focus on two important decisions related to migrant children’s education: whether parents enroll their children in public schools versus special migrant schools and if they pay fees for children’s enrollment in local public schools. We find that the majority of migrant children are enrolled in local public schools but a non-negligible proportion of migrant children is enrolled in special migrant schools. Despite official government policy that prohibits public schools from charging enrollment fees, about 20% of migrant children’s parents paid fees in 2012. We also reveal that migrant children whose parents possess more local social capital are able to navigate through the public school system. A significant regional difference emerges from our analysis: compared to other parts of China, migrant children in Eastern China are less likely to be enrolled in public schools and their parents are more likely to pay for children’s education in public schools. These findings present new evidence that migrant children continue to face significant obstacles in access to public education, which is not consistent with Chinese government’s plan to promote a people-centered urbanization.
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Based on authors’ interviews with migrant schools in Fuzhou, December 2014.
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This project was supported by the National Science Foundation [Grant Number: SES#1524282] and the National Social Science Foundation of China [15AZD053].
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Liang, Z., Yue, Z., Li, Y. et al. Choices or Constraints: Education of Migrant Children in Urban China. Popul Res Policy Rev 39, 671–690 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11113-019-09564-9