Some districts win and some lose in open enrollment
About open enrollment
Wisconsin statutes allow families to send their children to any school district in the state if they apply for open enrollment by Friday's 4 p.m. deadline.
A district can only reject an application if:
-- It doesn't have enough space for the student.
-- The student has been expelled in the last two years.
-- The student has special needs that can't be met by the district.
-- The student would attend a pre-kindergarten program not available in his or her home district.
-- The student's transfer would increase a racial imbalance.
Students are under no obligation to commit to the outside district until summer but must apply by Friday to be considered.
Families hoping to enroll students in a virtual school must apply for open enrollment in the school's home district.
To enroll your student in an outside district, visit www.dpi.state.wi.us and click on "public school open enrollment" at the bottom of the right column. If you don't have the Internet, you can get paper forms from your local school district office. Paper forms must be received by Friday.
For more information about open enrollment, contact Mary Jo Cleaver at (888) 245-2732 or MaryJo.Cleaver@dpi.wi.gov.
School districts are watching carefully as the open enrollment deadline approaches Friday.
Wisconsin's open enrollment program, which allows parents to send their children to any public school district in the state, can be an economic boon or bust for districts. For every student a district gains through open enrollment, another district loses a student. Fewer students mean less money.
The program can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars gained or lost for local districts.
In 2007-08, for example, Clinton Community School District gained $295,000 from open enrollment students. A neighboring district, Delavan-Darien, lost $771,000.
That money could be especially important to districts in the coming year as the economy tightens and schools wonder if they will lose state funding.
"We do count on those open enrollment students being there as a revenue source," said Lauri Clifton, comptroller for the Janesville School District.
Janesville gained $212,000 in 2007-08 by taking in 30 more students than it lost.
But Janesville's gain was at Milton's expense. More than half of the students coming into Janesville through open enrollment that year lived in the Milton district. Many of them lived in Janesville homes located in the Milton district, Clifton said.
Milton lost 75 more students than it gained through open enrollment in 2007-08, costing the district $399,000. About two-thirds of open enrollment students leaving Milton go to Janesville schools, Superintendent Bernie Nikolay said.
Nikolay guessed some of those students live in Janesville or have parents who work in Janesville. Other families might be looking for specific athletic or academic opportunities not offered in Milton.
"Financially, we lose some money because of that," he said. "I'd feel a lot better if it was the other way around, but it's not, and it's something that we should be working toward turning around."
The Parkview School District in western Rock County conducted a study last year to find out why it was losing so many students to open enrollment. The district lost 76 students in 2007-08 and took in 26 for a net loss of $268,000.
Answers varied among families, Interim Superintendent Patrick Kennedy said. Some wanted to drop their children off at schools in the same city where they worked. Others were concerned about the age and condition of district facilities. Still others wanted academic, athletic or extracurricular opportunities that aren't available at Parkview.
The study has pushed the district to do better in serving families and promoting a positive image of itself, Kennedy said.
Officials promote the district to local municipal boards and organizations, and the district sends a copy of the student newspaper to every home in the district, Kennedy said. In past years, it has written to all parents sending their children out of the district, encouraging them to take another look at Parkview.
This year, the district had a net loss of 44 students—an improvement from 50 the year before. Officials hope that number continues to shrink.
Despite open enrollment's challenges, Kennedy and other administrators said the program is good for public education.
"Whether it's home schooling, whether it's a school in a different area, whether it's a private school, I think it's good for families to have choices," Nikolay said. "It keeps us on our toes."