With many groups engaged in School Choice Week, it is important to monitor open enrollment laws, which allow kids to transfer to any public school with open seats. This year, 10 states have already introduced 20 proposals that would improve their K-12 open enrollment laws. If signed into law, four of the proposals are significant enough to improve their state’s scores in Reason Foundation’s 50-state open enrollment best practices rankings.
North Carolina House Bill 793 would establish mandatory cross- and within-district open enrollment. If signed into law, this proposal would expand education options for the almost 1.4 million students enrolled in North Carolina’s public schools. Moreover, the Tar Heel State would improve its open enrollment ranking from 0/5 to 2/5.
South Carolina House Bill 3843 and S.0315 would allow mandatory cross- and within-district open enrollment. They also would require school districts to post their open enrollment policies and procedures and the number of available seats by grade level on their websites. If signed into law, these proposals would expand education options for the nearly 800,000 students enrolled in South Carolina’s public schools. The state would also improve its open enrollment ranking from 0/5 to 3/5.
Tennessee Senate Bill 973 would implement mandatory cross-district open enrollment, letting students transfer to schools outside their school district that have available capacity. If signed into law, this would expand the schooling options for the more than 900,000 students in the Volunteer State and improve the state’s open enrollment ranking from 2/5 to 3/5.
The open enrollment proposals, in particular, would vastly improve the education options for the 4.3 million students enrolled in public schools throughout these states. Already, students benefit from strong cross-district open enrollment laws in 16 states. During the 2021-22 school year, more than one million students used open enrollment or some sort of public school transfer law in 11 states.
The number of students using open enrollment is likely much higher since data on open enrollment is scarce and several programs are just beginning. For instance, robust cross-district open enrollment went into effect in fall 2023 in five states. Moreover, Kansas’ strong open enrollment law signed into law in 2022, will become effective during the school year beginning in the fall of 2024.
More states should establish strong open enrollment laws so students can attend public schools that are the right fit for them, regardless of where they live.
The K-12 School Choice Calculator by Reason Foundation and EdChoice
Policymakers considering school choice proposals want to know about the fiscal effects of these programs on taxpayers and public school districts. Enter the new K-12 School Choice Calculator (SCC), a dynamic tool released today for legislators, fiscal analysts, and others who are interested in learning about the fiscal impact of private school choice programs across all 50 states. This tool represents a collaborative effort between EdChoice’s Fiscal Research and Education Center and Reason Foundation.
“The SCC allows users to design an ESA program for any state and provides a range of estimates for the fiscal effects of an education savings account (ESA) program on state and local taxpayers combined,” writes Martin Lueken, director of fiscal policy and analysis at EdChoice. “We hope this tool can be useful for lawmakers and stakeholders and help inform program design.”
From the states
In other developments across the country, Kentucky policymakers are considering a constitutional amendment, and Florida may expand eligibility for its private school choice programs.
In Kentucky, 15 policymakers introduced House Bill 208, a constitutional amendment that would open the door to private school choice. This proposal is the state legislature’s response to the Kentucky Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling that the state’s tax-credit scholarship program is unconstitutional. Currently, Republicans control both legislative chambers and passed the original tax-credit scholarship after overriding Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto.
The Florida House Choice and Innovation Subcommittee approved H.B. 1403, sending it to the House Education and Employment Committee. The bill would expand eligibility for the Family Tax Credit Scholarship, Family Empowerment Scholarship (FES) for Educational Options, and the FES for Students with Unique Abilities to include the children of active duty military personnel who are stationed in Florida or list Florida as their state of residence. The bill would also eliminate the Hope Scholarship Program, transferring its funding to the state’s tax-credit scholarship program.
While Indiana policymakers heard Senate Bill 255 last Thursday, they will likely not return to it until next year, according to Chalkbeat. If signed into law, however, the bill could drastically transform the state’s education system by streamlining existing private school choice programs into one and letting students use “state funding to purchase classes and services a la carte from schools, tutors, and other approved organizations,” Chalkbeat reported.
The New Hampshire Senate chamber voted in support of S.B 442, which would expand student eligibility for the state’s Education Freedom Accounts (EFAs). Under the proposal, any public school student denied a school reassignment becomes eligible for an EFA. Currently, student eligibility for the program is limited to those whose families’ income is 350% of the federal poverty level.
What to watch
Kansas school districts prepare as robust open enrollment law becomes effective. The new law required school districts to post their open enrollment policies and procedures on their websites beginning January 1st this year. As of June 1, school districts will have to publish their available capacity by grade level as well. Students can apply to transfer to schools outside their school district with open seats.
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ budget proposal would gut the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESA) program by limiting eligibility to students who were enrolled in public schools for at least 100 days. “Hobbs has also proposed eliminating prior-year eligibility. Those changes would disqualify about 49,500 ESA students who were not previously enrolled in public schools, saving the state an estimated $244 million,” Cronkite News reported.
Exclusive Data: Thousands of Schools at Risk of Closing Due to Enrollment Loss
Linda Jacobson at The74
“Among districts with over 50,000 students, those with the greatest share of schools that declined by 20% or more are concentrated in the South. They include Memphis-Shelby in Tennessee, the Dekalb County schools near Atlanta and several in Texas. Other large and mid-size districts topping the list include Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Albuquerque and the Granite Public Schools in Utah.”
Covid-19 Hit Hardest at the Most Vulnerable. So did School Closures
Rebecca Jack and Emily Oster at Education Next
“All of these pieces taken together emphasize the fact that school closures exacerbated existing inequalities. Access to in-person schooling was not equal for all children, and those with more access to in-person schooling were typically the same students who already had more access to other academic resources. The Covid-disrupted school year widened existing gaps in access to education.”
Emergency-Hired Teachers Do Just as Well as Those Who Go Through Normal Training
Chad Aldeman at The74
“In other words, making it harder to become a teacher will reduce the supply but offers no guarantee that those who meet the bar will actually be effective in the classroom. The recent COVID-related waivers should cause policymakers to re-evaluate whether barriers into the teaching profession actually serve a meaningful purpose or if they’re keeping potentially talented educators out of the classroom.”