The Power and Value of Open Enrollment

It’s beneficial in-and-of-itself that people should read, reflect, and commit themselves to ‘lifelong learning.’ Some years ago, the Whitewater Unified School District had a fine goal of inspiring students to become “engaged lifelong learners.”

Yet in smaller communities, without the money or numbers for plentiful schooling alternatives, government taxes for a school system, establishes rules requiring attendance, and after all this (and because of it, truly) then lobbies against alternatives. When a district says here and only here, it leverages parents’ high-cost of moving against their desire to seek what those parents consider a better educational option.

Our way or the highway is not a fitting slogan for an educational institution. Schools owe their communities more than whatever’s on local offer.  They owe their communities the best that competitive schooling demands.

Quality schooling means meeting standards beyond those of one’s locale, by learning from and sometimes competing against other ideas, places, and people. Growth through learning doesn’t simply come from within, it’s comes from without. It’s a matter of discovery and exchange.

Fortunately, our state does have process under law in which one may choose rather than passively and resignedly accept whatever is closest at hand. Wisconsin’s Open Enrollment policy is a realistic alternative to the local incumbent school system.

Alan Borsuk wrote a bit on this in the Friday’s Journal Sentinel. In Open enrollment has a big effect on Wisconsin’s education scene. It doesn’t get much attention, though, Borsuk writes

Open enrollment is actually the largest school choice program in Wisconsin. Since the late 1990s, it has allowed students in any district in Wisconsin to apply to go to public schools in any other district in the state. In general, students have to provide their own transportation, but otherwise the program comes with no extra costs. The receiving district gets most (but not all) of the public money that would otherwise go to the student’s home district. The receiving district can turn down a student for a few reasons, like not enough space, but it’s usually not hard for a student to get an open enrollment seat.

In fact, 65,266 students statewide open-enrolled in the 2019-20 school year, which is more students than the state’s four private school voucher programs combined. The open enrollment total for this year is not final yet – there are still students changing districts – but it will be higher than in prior years.

One big source of the increase appears to be the way the pandemic has spurred interest in virtual schools. (We’re talking about permanent virtual schools, not conventional schools that have gone virtual during the pandemic.)

This is all to the good of individuals and of society.

Improvement doesn’t come from local notables who insist that their ways should be copied, or public officials who praise their own work. It comes from striving for the best the nation offers, wherever one finds it, and sharing those experiences and ideas within one’s community.

Restricting opportunities, or pretending there’s nothing to be gained elsewhere, won’t improve Whitewater.

The path to improve the city runs across all the state and all the nation.

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2 years ago

Guess the Legislative Breakfast is still on your mind. Borsuk came along at the right time for you to drive home (again) a pro open enrollment position.

I do have a question.You obviously see a difference between politicians/officials who commute out at night (anti) and students who want to enroll out (pro). Is it that there’s a different standard for kids? That seems to be it?