Financial fairness in open enrollment
Ohio’s open enrollment policy allows students to attend school in a district other than where they live. Local districts retain the right to decide whether or not they will open their doors to students outside of their community. As school funding fluctuates, many districts see open enrollment as a way to increase revenue.
For open-enrolled students, the effects are certainly positive. They can access preferred classes, programs, sports teams and friends.
For the schools, both the one losing and the one gaining the student, the effects are mixed. In 2016, “Weighing the Costs and Benefits of Open Enrollment” was written and released by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost. The report provides clarity and can be accessed online. Residents of districts that have gained a large number of students through open enrollment may find value in this article, especially if increased taxes are being proposed. (Additional, detailed information for all districts can be found in the CUPP Reports on the Ohio Department of Education website.)
For the students of a district that has lost many to open enrollment, the effects are detrimental. The classes, programs and improvements that would add great value to their education become financially restricted. Even though the Yost report says “no local money goes with the student to the new district,” inadvertently, it does.
Ohio determines each year how much districts should spend to educate a child. The state uses a difficult formula to determine how much of that amount each individual district should be able to provide, then the state pays the difference. For example, if the state determines the cost to educate each student to be $6,000 and the formula determines that local tax revenue and business can produce $3,500 of this amount, then the state provides the difference of $2,500 to the district.
When a district gains a student from open enrollment, the home district pays out the $2,500 it received from the state to the new district. This is financially fair. What is financially unjust, is that the home district must also pay out the additional $3,500, even though it did not receive this money from the state. These funds must come from somewhere, presumably through the tax dollars paid by the residents of the home district.
Superintendents would likely agree that it costs more than $6,000 to educate a child. In this case, the taxpayers of the new district cover this cost for the students who do not live in their community.
Some may argue, “Improve the school and it won’t lose students.” It is difficult to add classes and provide opportunities when the money to do so is in the hands of another district.
Open enrollment should remain as a choice for students, but the amount of money transferred from one district to another needs to be fair. Public education has become a lucrative business for some, but a discouraging and difficult battle for others. Educating Ohio’s children should be a positive for all.