May 27, 2014
We call them ‘our kids’. We in public schools like to think of the children who live in our school district as our kids and right or wrong, we don’t much like sharing them with other districts or schools. In our minds, open enrolled students and those who attend community schools or parochial schools, even though some do not ride on our busses or walk our hallways or take a seat in our classrooms, are technically ‘ours’. They are ours in the sense that we are responsible for their education. We offer an educational program that we believe is high in quality, so when they choose another district over ours, it’s no small matter. We must wonder why.
There are numerous reasons why parents choose to send their children to schools other than the public school district where they reside. These are not likely to be easy decisions for them since it typically results in separating kids during the school day from kids next door and down the street – neighborhood friends. It sometimes requires the parents to provide their own transportation as well. Still, in spite of any inconvenience, thousands of families choose this path every year – for some reason.
Before examining all the factors that families may consider when they make a choice about enrollment, let’s first look at why we, as public schools, should care about the result of such decisions.
The financial impact to school districts is often significant. State funding allocated to public schools includes line items for open enrollment and community schools (added funds and/or subtracted funds). Funds (around $5,000 per student) are deducted for each student who attends another public school district either through open enrollment or community school attendance. For students coming to us from other school districts, funds are added to our settlement sheet.
Twice a month when these allocation sheets are posted on the ODE website, district financial managers take stock of the school district’s net position. If the school district accepts open enrolled students, they may either end up with a net positive position (more students coming in than leaving), a neutral position (approximately the same number of kids going out as there is coming in) or a negative position (fewer students coming in than leaving).
Besides the potential brunt of losing funds because our students aren’t attending our schools, there is another factor that is equally concerning. Our kids and their families are an essential part of our community. The connection between our schools and our community forms a circle of support. When families with children reside in our district but don’t have a connection with our schools, there is disruption to the support flowing both from the community to the school and from the school to the community.
When the net funding position of enrollment factors is negative, especially if it is decidedly negative, and the flow of support between schools and community is unsettled, it is time to assess, analyze and act.
Action must come in the form of outreach to families of students who leave our district for the halls of another school. Why are they not attending our schools? What factors did they consider when they made this choice? Do they have good information about our schools? Where does their information about our schools come from? Questions such as these must be posed to Dads and Moms before we can take the steps towards bringing our kids home. With some effort and engagement, we can expect that more of our kids will consider us their district.