JEFFERSON CITY — Members of the legislative Joint Committee on Education met Tuesday to hear about open enrollment.
Open enrollment allows students to attend schools outside the district in which they reside. Witnesses and committee members said reasons might be academics, convenience or extracurricular activities. It is not allowed in Missouri in most circumstances.
Steve Cookson, superintendent of Naylor Public Schools, said controlled open enrollment might be beneficial to his district.
Cookson gave the hypothetical example of a first-grade classroom. If there were 26 students in the class, it would be a relatively large class, he said. However, dividing the students into two classes of 13 isn't always feasible or reasonable. "If I were allowed to take a few other students that wanted to opt into our district, I could then create two classrooms of 17 or so," Cookson said.
Lois Wankum is a mother of two who also said open enrollment would be beneficial. For her, it's a matter of convenience.
A few years ago her family moved to a farm one mile away from its previous residence but in a different district. Wankum said it was a financial burden to send her kids to the new district. "It was hard to put the child on the bus for an hour and a half every day," she said. Their old school was only seven miles away.
Larry Davis testified about his 30 years as a school superintendent. As a superintendent in North Dakota, Davis told the committee there had been problems with open enrollment. He cited athletics as one of the primary reasons parents chose to move their students to other school districts.
Davis said in North Dakota, state funding followed students. However, in the instance of special education, the financial responsibility remained with the home school. This, Davis said, "became a hardship."
"As you take students out of a school, you decrease the amount of state aid going to that school. But then you penalize them for paying for the special education of the students that leave which tend to be high-cost students — a double whammy on schools," Davis said.
Davis also said taxpayers would be left to pay for students not in their district. He said taxpayers in districts students were leaving would be left paying taxes for schools their children weren't even attending. On the flip side, taxpayers in districts experiencing an influx of students would be responsible for levying funds for students not residing in that school district.
Penny Rector, a representative from the Missouri Council of School Administrators, said there is no real benefit to students who transfer schools. "We find little or no evidence to show significant improvement in student performance by creating open enrollment. And so, we question whether or not there is a need for open enrollment policies."
Rector also said open enrollment policies could lead to problems such as segregation.
The hearing was designated for informational purposes only. The deliberation will continue when the legislature returns to session in the new year.