Number of Wisconsin parents using open enrollment program rises
Feb 11, 2013 | Written by Keith Uhlig
Daily Herald Media
Wausau-area school districts are reporting a record number of parents using the state’s open enrollment process to choose the schools their children attend.
Open enrollment is a process that allows families to send their children to a public school district outside of the one’s in which they live. The open enrollment application period started Feb. 4 this year and runs through April 30.
The number of transfers, both new and continuing has been climbing steadily since the 1998-99 school year, when 2,464 students in Wisconsin schools changed districts through the program. Five years ago, in the 2008-09 school year, that number had climbed to 28,025. The state Department of Public Instruction estimates that 41,562 students used open enrollment this school year.
Wausau-area school districts report the same kind of steady increase, with most transfers taking place because families have moved from one district to another, but who want to keep their children in their original schools. But as the number of new charter schools and specialty programs pop up, parents are increasingly using the program to find the right kind of education
for their children.
The Wausau School District, for example, had 185 students transferring out and 185 students transferring in this school year. In the 2008-09 school year, five years ago, 46 students transferred out; 77 transferred in.
The Mosinee School District also saw an increase in transfers. This year, 67 students enrolled in Mosinee schools, 105 transferred out. Five years ago, 42 transferred in and 71 transferred out.
“Everybody is looking for some options,” said Jerry Rosso, the superintendent of the Mosinee School District. “I think it’s really hard to have a singular program that services the needs of all children.”
Peter and Sue Vance of the town of Norrie have used the open enrollment process for their son, Scott, for both continuity and program reasons. The couple lived in the D.C. Everest Area School District for years, then built a home in the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School District. They wanted to keep Scott in his original school, Riverside Elementary, and used the process to keep him there.
Later, the Vances decided that Scott would be best served in the Everest district’s new charter school, the Idea Charter School. Idea is a project-based school that gives students the choice in how to learn, using projects that interest them.
“Scott is very good at taking the ball and running with it,” Sue Vance said, and together as a family they decided Idea was right for Scott.
“This seemed like a new way of educating kids, and I’m not so settled that the spoon-fed traditional way is correct,” Peter Vance said.
The open enrollment process makes it easy for people such as the Vances to make the choice, and spurs districts to innovate to remain competitive.
“This is a general trend,” Rosso said. “We’re going to see a lot more options for students. Even with traditional high schools, you’re seeing special programs.”