Is a Little Open Enrollment a Dangerous Thing?
In an article about Missouri’s open enrollment proposal, the Post-Dispatch quotes the director of a Minnesota education center:
“I don’t see school choice as good [or] as bad,” he said. “It’s like freedom. You have to use it carefully, otherwise it will cause problems.”
This quote sheds light on the worldview of people who are indifferent to parental choice. Freedom isn’t good or bad? And it’s liable to cause problems if we’re not super careful? The attitude is even more astonishing in the context of an open enrollment discussion. We’re talking about parents choosing between public school districts, which receive funding and directives from local government, state government, and federal government. Open enrollment would not allow families to choose a school subject to any less government control. And, for most students, choices would be limited because there are only a handful of districts close enough for them to attend. I just don’t see what this proposal has in common with unbridled freedom.
Open enrollment as it’s proposed would be a small step forward for Missouri’s current system — not a revolution. The term “open enrollment” sounds like a free-for-all, but the vast majority of students would actually stay in their current districts. That’s because under the plan, districts would be able to set limits on how many students they’ll accept, or to close their doors to transfer students altogether. And parents would have to decide where they’d like their children to transfer to by January, many months before the start of the school year. So, last-minute switches that could prove a hassle for districts would be ruled out.
Besides, Missouri already does allow some students to cross district lines. The St. Louis Public Schools’ magnets haven’t descended into chaos by enrolling students from the county, nor does the arrangement set county districts behind SLPS. Other examples include St. Louis–area students who attend the Program for Exceptionally Gifted Students, and rural students who petition to attend nearby schools out of their districts. Inter-district enrollment isn’t dangerous in those cases, and expanding it to all districts would also do no harm.