Can your child go to school outside their neighborhood? | K-12 schools


When Diana Herrera and her son decided to leave the private high school he attended to attend a public school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, they first had to do their homework.


“We were concerned that the school within our assigned limit was too big,” Herrera says. “We contacted our district and they gave us a choice of three schools – that’s it. In the end, we chose a high school located about twenty kilometers from our house because it met the needs of our son and we liked the atmosphere there. after our visit with the administration. “

More American families than ever are actively choosing to send their children to public schools outside of their assigned neighborhoods. Thanks to a wave of state legislation and regulations in recent years, the decision of which school to attend is increasingly in the hands of parents rather than district officials and school boundary maps. .

States that give students the option to transfer call it open enrollment, a growing educational policy in nearly all states. Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia have policies that address open enrollment in one way or another. Only Alabama, Maryland and North Carolina do not.

Understand open registration

The rules on open registration and the process required will differ from state to state, and sometimes even district to district. There are two basic types of policies:

  • Intradistrict. This allows students to transfer to another school within their resident school district.
  • Interdistrict. This allows students to transfer to a school outside of their neighborhood of residence.

Depending on the state, open enrollment policies are mandatory, voluntary, or both.

  • Mandatory policies. These require all schools or districts to accept transfer students, although mandatory policies may be subject to restrictions.
  • Voluntary policies. These allow districts to choose whether or not to participate in open enrollment, often leaving school districts the discretion to enter into transfer agreements with other districts.

Some states require mandatory open enrollment in underperforming districts, defined areas of the state, or under specific circumstances, while allowing voluntary open enrollment in the rest of the state, depending on the state. a report by the State Education Commission.

And states keep changing their policies. For example, the Ohio State Legislature, in its next session, will decide whether the state should move from voluntary open registration to mandatory registration, requiring participation from all districts.

The real choice of the school

So, can your child go to school outside of their neighborhood? Chances are they can, although there may be rules and restrictions, and these may be different depending on your location.

“Open enrollment is where most students and families choose school,” says Deven Carlson, associate professor at the University of Oklahoma and director of education at the National Institute of Risk and Resilience. “It exists widely and doesn’t get a lot of attention. But it’s definitely here to stay.”

Ben Erwin, policy analyst at the State Education Commission, says open enrollment policies vary widely by state and locality.

“Popular open listing in one place or state may not be feasible in another,” Erwin said. “In Wisconsin, there is a limit to the number of students who travel outside assigned limits, but that’s not everywhere. Open enrollment is discussed in many educational settings and will vary by region and region. place.”

There are many factors that can cause parents to attempt to use open enrollment policies. In some cases, families move but wish to keep their children in the same school. In other cases, they want to change schools without moving. Carlson says parents can have many different motivations.

“Usually there is a combination of quality, convenience and extra programming behind a family’s decision,” he says. “Certainly, they want to have access to a school that they perceive to be better. Maybe they want the school to be on their way to work. Maybe they are considering after-school or school programs that aren’t. not offered in their current school or district. Each family may have a specific motivation. “

Charter schools and magnetic schools, which often promote special programs or specific educational philosophies, are the ancestors of the open enrollment policy. Schools like this stood out as unique and appealed to the interests and needs of families.

While charter schools and school vouchers have grabbed the headlines when it comes to school choice, open enrollment policies have gone under the radar as a way for families to find the right school for their children, Carlson said.

“Open enrollment is not only widely used,” he says, “it’s expanding.”


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