AKRON, Ohio — Nearly 72,000 public school students in Ohio sought education in another school district last year, making 2013 a record year for students transferring outside of their home districts as part of the state’s open-enrollment process.
The enrollment changes led to $360 million in public school funding being shifted from one community to another, the Akron Beacon Journal reported.
Open enrollment allows parents to send their children across district borders without changing their address. Last year reflected the largest jump in the program, which is more than 20 years old.
For suburban and rural schools that want to fill classrooms, open enrollment is the answer to budget shortfalls. But because it typically results in urban schools losing a disproportionate number of white, middle-class students, the policy repeatedly has raised concerns about racial segregation.
The program, Ohio’s first statewide school-choice option, has been challenged in the courts only once, when Akron fought back against white flight among students in the early 1990s. Participation has more than doubled in the past 10 years, from 33,395 students in 2003 to 71,827 in 2013, according to the newspaper.
Democratic state Sen. Tom Sawyer has long called for a comprehensive study of open enrollment.
During 2013 state budget negotiations, the Legislature sought to appease Sawyer by requiring the governor and Ohio Department of Education to assemble a task force of local school chiefs and treasurers to sort through information and recommend changes in the program.
After meeting three times, they presented a list of recommendations. The thrust of their work focused on discrepancies in funding. Stronger language addressing the adverse effects on minority and poor students was either toned down or removed from an early draft.
Among other suggestions, the task force recommended more study of the program.
“It was pretty superficial stuff to be perfectly honest with you,” Sawyer said.
During the task force’s deliberations, educators and citizens gave public comments.
“(Open enrollment) obviously takes away kids from more affluent families with means, and leaves us with students who have challenges,” said Terry Martin, superintendent of Zanesville City Schools. “That’s it in a nutshell.”
But others touted the program’s positive effects on student achievement and the ability of rural district to use the extra cash to provide a better education.