Reimagining Education

Open Enrollment Top Reform Issue as Legislature Returns

The legislature returned to Jefferson City to begin the 2010 session on January 6 and education reform legislation is already a hot topic of discussion. Despite budgetary concerns limiting what is likely to be considered this session, items with little or no impact on state finances are rising to the top of the education reform agenda.

The item earning the most attention at the beginning of the session is the issue of open enrollment. Open enrollment is a policy that allows students to transfer to a school in a district outside of where the student lives, so long as the receiving district has the capacity for the student. This policy could be beneficial to parents seeking to move their child from a failing school district to a higher performing one. Many parents are also frustrated by being assigned to a school based on zone boundaries, often decades old, when they have a school in another district much closer to their home.

The Joint Committee on Education conducted a study on the issue in the interim session, hearing from parents and advocacy groups who were in favor of open enrollment and school administrators and teacher union representatives who were opposed. The main opposition was over one of the four areas of special education, transportation, funding and planning for capacity. But, the study released by the committee shows that almost all 14 states studied have policies that deal with these topics. Senator Rob Meyer has filed an open enrollment bill this session. The bill was referred to the Senate Education Committee but has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

The Children’s Education Alliance has previously discussed how open enrollment can benefit special needs students. In addition to being able to move their child to a district with better services, the parent would also be able to find a district that practices policies that a parent believes is best for their child. For example, I had a conversation recently with the organizer of an anti- seclusion website in Missouri, and she was very interested in open enrollment. She explained that she pulled her autistic child out of her zone district and is now homeschooling due to the district’s policies on seclusion and restraint. She also cited Missouri as being one of the few states that still allows districts to use corporal punishment on students. She would like to take part in this policy so she could look for a public school district close to her who has better policies on these issues.

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