OUR OPINION: Unresolved issues obstruct open enrollment

Open enrollment is a concept whose time has not yet come.

On Oct. 29, 2009, in this forum, we wrote: “We believe many issues must be resolved before approving open enrollment.”

More than a year later, they haven’t been.

Open enrollment allows a student residing in one public school district to enroll in another without being required to pay out-of-district tuition, now required by state law.

A proponent of open enrollment, the Missouri Education Reform Council, cites benefits that include: access to a closer school; access to a district with services for special needs students; and increased competition among districts.

Opponents of open enrollment include the Missouri School Boards Association and the Missouri Association of School Administrators. Objections include: planning difficulties; taxpayer inequity; and potential for sports recruiting.

We believe opponents advance much more persuasive arguments.

A report prepared a year ago for the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education noted 14 states now have some form of open enrollment.

But those states generally provide more state money for their public schools and, in some cases, also pay or help pay for buildings.

Missouri, on the other hand, splits education costs with the local districts — and each district gets a different amount of state aid and is responsible for all building needs.

Districts traditionally rely on enrollment projections to plan for new facilities, additional classroom space and student-teacher ratios. Open enrollment could distort those projections, rendering estimates less reliable and education less effective.

Financial inequities include patrons in higher-taxed districts subsidizing the education and amenities for the transferred students of parents in lower-taxed districts.

Most troubling, however, would be attempts to alter or augment student bodies and diversity. As examples, would a faculty member attempt to recruit academic achievers; would a coach seek athletic talent; would a parent attempt to place a child among an elevated socio-economic peer group?

Student mobility among public school districts now is possible, but at some costs to those seeking the transfer.

Shifting costs and responsibility to another district and its taxpayers is both unfair and unwise.

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