By Benjamin Yount
There are winners and losers in Wisconsin’s Open Enrollment program, but just who fits in either category may be a bit surprising.
The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty released its deep dive into the state’s Open Enrollment program last week. The report details a number of positives, a handful of negatives, and some suggestions to make sure that all kids in Wisconsin get a shot at a high quality education.
The report states there are net winners and net losers in the program. It’s not a reflection on the quality of education, rather it’s WILL’s measure of school districts that gain students through open enrollment and school districts that lose students.
WILL found that many low-income schools lose both students and state funding because of open enrollment, and that higher income schools usually attract those students.
“Between 2015 and 2019 the top 15 net winning districts each year saw net increases in enrollment of between 24%- 69%,” the report states. “The top 15 ‘net-losing’ school districts between 2015 and 2019 saw enrollment losses between 13% and 47%.”
WILL’s Jessica Holmberg said the numbers tell only part of the story.
“Like all of Wisconsin’s school choice programs, the open enrollment program specifically serves to empower families with the ability to choose the best schools for their children,” Holmberg said.
The report doesn’t give a reason as to why so many parents choose to change their children’s school, but the report did note that sports do not track with the open enrollment numbers.
“Although many speculate that sports success plays a role in a school’s success, in the case of open enrollment, districts whose high-school teams make the state football playoff are not more likely to have higher open enrollment,” the authors wrote.
Perhaps surprisingly, Milwaukee Public Schools and the Madison Metropolitan School District are not among the net winners or net losers when it comes to open enrollment.
The top net loser in the state according to WILL is the Twin Lakes school district. That is followed by Palmyra-Eagle schools, then Albany schools, the Delavan-Darien district, and Florence schools.
WILL’s study lists McFarland Schools outside of Madison as the top net winner in the state. The district is followed by Grantsburg, Brighton #1 in Kansasville, the Paris school district in Kenosha, and the Erin school district in Washington County.
“It appears that higher-spending districts tend to see more students open-enrolling into them. This is the case even though high spending does not correlate with student outcomes according to previous research conducted by WILL and others,” the study states. “It appears that higher–spending districts offer something — perhaps better facilities — that is appealing to parents.”
The WILL study also makes some recommendations to improve the Open Enrollment program.
First, WILL says lawmakers should expand open enrollment beyond just a certain time frame each year. Second, WILL suggests that lawmakers require schools be more transparent in their open enrollment numbers. And WILL suggests that schools be blocked from stopping a student from leaving for another school district.
“Current law permits school districts to deny alternative applications due to best interests, effectively allowing school districts to stop students from leaving the district,” the study notes.
There is a plan at the statehouse that would change how open enrollment works for the rest of this school year and all of next.
Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, is pushing a plan to allow students to opt-out of the school if the school isn’t open for in-person classes. That plan has yet to come-up for a vote.
This is School Choice Week across the United States. School Choice advocates are trying to get attention to the successes of allowing families to choose the best educational option for their family.
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.