For decades, where a child lives has by and large determined where he or she goes to school. This outdated approach to education means that students are required to attend public schools that may not be the best fit for them for many reasons — like education quality or student environment. It also creates unequal opportunities for students. For example, more than a quarter of high schools in the United States do not offer AP courses — meaning that students attending those schools don’t have the option to save themselves thousands of dollars by earning college-level credits in high school.
A 21st century approach to education should remove arbitrary barriers like outdated residential assignment laws so that every student can access the education that is best for them.
The Reason Foundation, with grant support from Stand Together Trust, is paving the way for states that are looking to update education policies. Reason’s new research report, “Public Schools Without Boundaries: A 50-State Ranking of K-12 Open Enrollment”, provides best practices for open enrollment and a ranking of each state on open enrollment policies.
“While various education resources indicate that 43 states explicitly have open enrollment,” the report says, “most of those policies are null or ineffective since they are overly deferential to school districts.” School districts can “game the system to exclude students who don’t reside in their boundaries,” “make program participation voluntary,” or “disincentivize transfers by charging non-resident students the full cost of tuition or exorbitant fees.”
Reason’s best practices promote accountability, transparency, and free and fair public schooling for all students.
#1 Mandatory Cross-District Open Enrollment
School districts are required to have a cross-district enrollment policy and are only permitted to reject transfer students for limited reasons, such as school capacity. Policies must be posted online on districts’ websites, including all applicable deadlines and application procedures.
#2 Mandatory Within-District Open Enrollment
School districts are required to have a within-district enrollment policy that allows students to transfer schools within the school district, and are only permitted to reject transfer requests for limited reasons, such as school capacity. Policies must be posted online on districts’ websites, including all applicable deadlines and application procedures.
#3 Transparent Reporting by the State Education Agency
The State Education Agency annually collects and publicly reports key open enrollment data by school district including transfer students accepted, transfer applications rejected, and the reasons for rejections.
#4 Transparent School Capacity Reporting
Districts are annually required to publicly report seating capacity by school and grade level so families can easily access data on available seats.
#5 Children Have Free Access to All Public Schools
School districts should not charge families transfer tuition.
Read the full report to see which states have the best policies, where your state ranks, and more research on why open enrollment is vital for moving education into a 21st century model.