Open enrollment continues to grow

OVER THE past ten years, Ohio’s open enrollment has doubled. In 2003, 33,395 students participated in open enrollment, and that number jumped to 71,827 in 2013. That’s out of the nearly 2 million students who are enrolled in Ohio’s public schools. Last year experienced the biggest surge to date in the twenty-year old program.

Open enrollment is a program which allows parents to apply for their children to attend a public school in a school district other than the one in which they live. It’s free, and sometimes the school district accepting an open-enrolled student gets more funding for that child than other students. It’s beneficial to rural schools which often have low funding due to a smaller student population.

Shadyside School District is one that benefits from the program, averaging over 200 open enrollment students each year. However, the district didn’t see last year’s significant increase that was recorded throughout other parts of Ohio.

“I can’t say we’re up from last year, we’ve always had a lot of open enrollment kids,” said Superintendent John Haswell. “It’s a good thing for our school.”

Switzerland of Ohio and Bellaire are the two districts Shadyside sees the most students come from. Haswell said proximity is often a reason students transfer from Bellaire, as some live within a four or five minute drive of Shadyside schools.

Students transfer for a variety of reasons, including physically being closer to one district despite having a home address in another. Other reasons could be proximity to a parents’ workplace or wanting to participate in another schools’ extracurriculars.

Many schools have policies regarding transfer students participating in athletics. Some prohibit participation for one quarter, others an entire year.

Unfortunately, open enrollment divides opinions because it can negatively affect school districts that lose their students and funding. In urban areas, open enrollment has led to concerns over racial segregation, since white, middle-class students are the highest demographic population to leave their schools for others.

On Dec. 31, 2013, Ohio’s newly created Open Enrollment Task Force issued a report to Gov. Kasich, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Task Force, consisting of 18 school district superintendents, treasurers, and Ohio Department of Education staff, reported on the history of open enrollment and recommendations for the future.

Recommendations of the Task Force included:

-Creating a pool of state funds available only to school districts with a significant loss of funding from open enrollment, expressed as either a number or a percent of the district’s state funding. It could address the issue of fairness with regard to financial effects on school districts suffering a higher loss of funds, without reducing the payments to school districts taking on open enrollment students.

– Including special education funding with open enrollment funding adjustments. In the current funding system, all open enrollment students, regardless of special education needs, are funded with the same $5,745 deduction/payment, and additional costs can be recouped by the educating district from the resident district through the “excess cost” process in the following fiscal year. The Task Force recommended transferring the supplemental special education funding along with the base funding amount, which would eliminate the delay in special education funding and reduce excess cost paperwork and payments.

– The Task Force recommended further study in the area of school levies, since open enrollment could reduce support for local levies. Parents are voting for the levies where they reside, but their children are not educated there.

The Task Force’s report, which includes public comments, can be read in its entirety at education.ohio.gov/topics/school-choice.

Warner may be reached at mwarner@timesleaderonline.com.