October 6, 2022

School District assignment becoming thing of the past

Thanks to a recent wave of parent demand to have more control over where their child goes to school, legislatures nationwide are embracing "open enrollment."

For more than a century, American public-school students were assigned to attend certain institutions based on school district boundary maps and zoning. Public schools accepted all students within their districts, regardless of their previous academic performance or special learning needs. Over time, attitudes changed. More than 75% of school parents today say they support students being able to select and transfer to a public school of their choice. Many things motivate the desire for open enrollment.

The forerunners of open enrollment were charter schools and magnet schools. These specialized public schools often promote special learning programs or follow specific educational philosophies.

Some schools offer extra-curricular or scholastic programs not offered at their current school or district. Each family may have a specific reason. In some cases, families move but want to provide their children the consistency of remaining in the same school with the same classmates, teachers, and programs.

Today, 47 states and the District of Columbia allow at least limited intra-district or inter-district school transfers. There is a very good chance your child can go to school outside your assigned school district, though there may be rules and restrictions depending on the location.

Some states require mandatory open enrollment in low-performing districts, in defined regions of the state or in specific circumstances, while allowing voluntary open enrollment in the rest of the state.

And states continue to change their policies. For example, the Ohio state legislature, in its upcoming session, will decide if the state should move from voluntary open enrollment to mandatory, requiring all districts to participate.

All public schools must follow the laws of their state. Access varies – in some states, transfers are readily available while in others, transfers are rarely permitted. Traditional public schools are run by local school districts, usually overseen by elected school boards. Parents seeking a school change should start with these local authorities.