OPEN ENROLLMENT PROGRAM
Minnesota has a variety of enrollment option programs for students and families which are designed to encourage deliberate choices about educational opportunities. Minnesota law requires us, as a school district, to inform our public about the options available.
The programs include opportunities such as Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) which allows students to take college credits, open enrollment which allows students to choose the public school of attendance, and graduation incentives programs. The open enrollment and post-secondary enrollment options are two of the state’s best known programs. This week, I would like to look at programs relating to school choice by looking at the open enrollment option program.
The Minnesota open enrollment program is designed to allow students and families to choose the school district which they wish to attend during the school year. Essentially, it allows students to choose any public school district in the state for regular attendance.
Students may open enroll from the district in which they are a resident to attend any other public school district. The districts do not have to be bordering each other; students can choose any school district. Most often, however, students do choose to enroll in a district bordering the district of residence.
The purpose of the open enrollment program is to allow families to have a choice in the educational program offered to their students. Thus, a student who lives in Rockville, Richmond, or Cold Spring could choose to go to school in Albany, Eden Valley-Watkins, Kimball, Paynesville, St. Cloud or even Willmar, Detroit Lakes, Fergus Falls, or any other public school in the state. A student from any other school district could choose to attend ROCORI.
The state instituted the program as part of the effort to expand student choice and as a means of encouraging school district accountability. Schools are held accountable, in the theory of the process, with families choosing a district for academic or programmatic reasons. Regardless of the reason or rationale behind the choice, the open enrollment program is intended to allow parents and students to choose the school district they desire to attend.
The process for open enrollment is quite simple. Students must inform the resident district of the decision to go to another school district and must notify the nonresident district (which is then the district of attendance) of the plans to attend school there. The state has an open enrollment form designed to help convey the information to each district.
Families choosing open enrollment should begin the process by sending the open enrollment form to the district of choice (or the nonresident district which they plan to attend). The appropriate authority in that district signs the form indicating that the application is approved (or potentially, rejected). The district of attendance then sends the form to the resident district to complete the notification process.
The formal deadline for open enrollment applications within the state of Minnesota is January 15th for the upcoming school year. By February 15th, the nonresident school district must inform the applicant whether the application has been accepted or rejected.
For schools that participate in the integration/academic achievement program in Minnesota, there is no longer a January 15 timeline—open enrollment may happen at any time of year. ROCORI is a district enrolled in the integration program, so there is no longer a January 15 deadline to enroll into the district. The timelines, however, remain in effect for schools that are not integration districts.
These deadlines are set so that school districts may plan accordingly for gains or losses of students through the open enrollment process. According to statute, all applications which are submitted to the nonresident district by the deadline date will receive approval through this simple process.
Students or parents who do not complete an open enrollment application by the January 15th deadline may still apply for open enrollment, but the process becomes a little more complex. It involves the approval of both of the school districts involved in the change.
Once the January 15 deadline has passed, either district may refuse to accept the enrollment application. Parents are bound by the decisions of the school districts for the remainder of that school year. The releasing school district must authorize the transfer of the student(s) and the receiving school district must formally approve the transfer into that system.
Once a student has been approved in the open enrollment process, the application does not need to be submitted in subsequent years. Although each student must have an application for enrollment, once the forms are processed and approved the open enrollment status lasts until the student graduates or chooses to open enroll to another school.
If a ROCORI student should choose to go to another school, how does the student get to school? In most cases, it is the responsibility of the student to get there. The responsibility for transportation to and from school rests primarily with the student.
The requirement of the legislation is that, if a student chooses to leave the ROCORI district, ROCORI is only obligated to provide transportation to the district boundaries. Once the student gets to the boundary, the student is responsible to make arrangements to get to school.
With the difficulties in arranging meeting of buses or coordinating transportation, most students who open enroll make their own transportation arrangements or drive themselves. For students who live on or near the district boundaries, it is much easier to arrange for busing between the two districts, but residents in other locations within the district will have a much more difficult time. If transportation is not an issue for the family, open enrollment allows a significant choice in the educational program for students.
OTHER ISSUES TO CONSIDER
The Minnesota State High School League has implemented rules in response to open enrollment issues. The MSHSL has placed limitations on the number of transfers a student may make and still remain fully eligible for activities. In making open enrollment choices, a student should be sure to connect with the schools involved to determine the impact that open enrollment may have on activity eligibility.
OPEN ENROLLMENT IN ROCORI
The ROCORI School District has a long history of being a school that benefits from open enrollment. Although the numbers vary from year to year, the district has had more students enrolling INTO the district than those enrolling OUT of the district. In the current year, approximately 250 students have enrolled into ROCORI. Approximately 100 students have chosen to enroll outside the district.
We have had a lot of inquiries this fall about the district practices related to open enrollment. The ROCORI District has never closed the enrollment process and there has not been any discussion at the board level about doing so.
It would be challenging for the district to justify action to limit open enrollment. As I noted earlier, we are a district that receives Achievement and Integration aid from the state. This status has an effect on the open enrollment expectations.
In addition, we are not a district that can claim to be “at capacity” in our programs or buildings. There are a number of things we could do, within our buildings and programs, to shift or adjust capacity.
The district also benefits, in student foundation aid, from the enrollment of students into the district. In round figures, open enrollment brings us about $1 million annually in state aid to allow us to operate our schools and programs.
I would like to spend a little more time on the issue of enrollment options. Next week, I expect to review the post-secondary enrollment options program in more detail.