K-12 open enrollment in Wisconsin: Key lessons for other states
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Policy Brief

K-12 open enrollment in Wisconsin: Key lessons for other states

Wisconsin's public school open enrollment program serves over 70,000 students and can be a model for other states.

Executive Summary

In recent years, providing families with more educational options has become an important policy for state legislatures around the nation. But while learning pods, charter schools and education savings accounts dominate the discussion, cross-district open enrollment as a form of school choice shouldn’t be overlooked. Wisconsin provides a best practices model for states looking to improve their student transfer policies.

This policy brief provides evidence that many of the measures incorporated in Wisconsin’s open enrollment system have been effective and have helped to make it the largest single school choice program in the state.

Among the key findings of this report:

#1 Increasing the window for program entry increases participation. Open enrollment jumped nearly 20% in one year when Wisconsin opened an alternative application procedure outside of the normal time frame.

#2 Students move to school districts with better academics. Districts with better outcomes on state tests tend to gain more students in open enrollment, while districts that perform poorly tend to lose more students.

#3 “Donor” districts initially improve. Wisconsin school districts that lost students to open enrollment initially improved on state tests, although these effects dissipated over time.

#4 Increases in the transfer funding amount are correlated with greater district participation. As the amount of funding transferred to the receiving district has increased over time, districts have taken in more students through the program.

Policymakers in other states have much they can learn from Wisconsin’s open enrollment program. Specifically, its statewide funding amount, differentiated funding for students with disabilities, and robust transparency requirements have encouraged school district participation and increased educational opportunities for families, with more than 70,000 students now participating.