Making public school open enrollment in Georgia more accessible

Open enrollment, an education policy that allows K-12 students to transfer from one public school to another, is gaining traction across the United States. This policy aims to give families greater freedom in choosing the most suitable learning environment for their children. 

A recent report from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation delves into the current state of open enrollment in Georgia, comparing it with open enrollment accessibility in other states and offering insights into how this facet of school choice could be improved.

The rationale of open enrollment is explained in the report: “Students and their parents should be allowed to choose the learning environment that best suits them. If that option is a different public school from the one they currently attend, they should be afforded the freedom to transfer without arbitrary boundaries.”

The report draws on evidence from other studies and reports that show positive impacts of open enrollment. Studies from EdChoice and the University of Chicago’s Becker-Friedman Institute for Economics include improved school quality through competition, especially among the lowest-performing schools.

Despite the growing popularity of open enrollment programs nationwide, the report reveals that Georgia is not meeting its full potential in making these programs accessible to students.

Here is a breakdown of the situation in the Peach state:

The report found that Georgia’s open enrollment program is typical compared to other states. There are some metrics by which the state is performing well, and others that could use significant improvement.

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation reached out to 69 of the largest school districts in Georgia and received 21 responses. These responses, and the lack of others, paint a mixed picture of how open enrollment is implemented at the district level. While some districts track relevant data and respond promptly to information requests, others lack the infrastructure or policies to do so effectively. This inconsistency further complicates the task of evaluating the policy’s success and identifying best practices.

The districts that responded and were able to provide data amount to approximately 547,000 students across the state, or about a third of Georgia’s K-12 students. Among these, districts collectively reported 25,826 total applications for transfers, with 20,448 accepted and 5,378 denied. While at first glance it appears that the majority of transfer applicants are successful, the reality is more complex due to variations in how districts manage and track these applications. Notably, some districts reported no denied applications, not due to a lack of rejections, but because they do not make applications available for schools at full capacity, effectively denying certain transfers implicitly.

The report highlights a significant issue with both data transparency and data reporting. While a few states, including Kansas, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, have robust data collection systems in place at the state level, Georgia does not. Also, its district-level reporting is often incomplete or non-existent. This lack of comprehensive data hampers the ability to assess the effectiveness and accessibility of open enrollment policies fully.

Moreover, the report underscores the importance of transparency in informing parents about their options. Given that most families opt for traditional public schools, it’s crucial for Georgia’s education system to provide clear and accessible information about the transfer process. This not only aligns with the broader arguments for school choice but also promotes a competitive environment encouraging schools to innovate and improve to retain and attract students.

The report highlights areas in which the state is falling short. While Georgia allows for within-district transfers, cross-district transfers are subject to the receiving school’s approval and capacity constraints, limiting the choices available to students. This is compounded by the lack of comprehensive data collection at both the state and district levels, making it difficult to understand the policy’s full impact and areas for improvement.

The report calls on Georgia to make the following improvements to the open-enrollment system:

– Georgia should require all school districts to participate in statewide cross-district and within-district open enrollment.

– The state should improve transparency by district reporting to the Department of Education, which should publish that information.

– Georgia’s state-level reporting should at least include transfers in and out of each school, along with net change. It should also include reasons for denied applications

– Public school should be free to all Georgia students.

If the above recommendations are implemented, Georgia could not only enhance educational opportunities for all its students but also serve as a model for other states grappling with similar challenges. This would be a pivotal step toward ensuring that every child has access to a quality education that meets their unique needs and aspirations.

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