Open enrollment: the school choice nobody talks about (Real Clear Education)

January 24, 2020
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Jan. 26 to Feb. 1 is National School Choice Week. Much of the national discussion surrounding school choice focuses on private school scholarships or public charter schools. Other school choice options include online academies, magnet programs, or home schooling. But did you know that school choice also includes the option to attend traditional public schools?

Today, more U.S. families than ever before have the ability to actively choose traditional public schools for their children — schools outside their assigned neighborhoods. Most states call this option open enrollment or “public school choice.” Over the last several years, at least 20 states enacted 35 separate bills to update open enrollment.

Thanks to these efforts, all but four states have some type of open enrollment option. A total of 33 states and the District of Columbia allow students to attend other traditional public schools within their assigned district, what’s known as intradistrict enrollment. And 43 states allow students to attend public schools outside their district — interdistrict enrollment. (Some states allow both options.) 

28 states make open enrollment mandatory in at least some cases, requiring local districts to offer this option to families. In 34 states, open enrollment is voluntary, meaning districts can decide whether to participate. The National School Choice Week website has more information on the possible options available to you in your state.

School choice focuses on providing the best option for each child’s needs — and in many cases, that option may be a traditional public school. Perhaps another public school in your town, located outside your neighborhood, has a wonderful arts program that would benefit your budding young musician. Maybe a public school in the next town over offers intensive science courses that would help your aspiring engineer. Maybe you commute a long distance to work, and a school near your workplace would make your family’s transportation schedule much easier.

As a parent, you should have access to those options. School choice recognizes that each child has unique gifts, talents, abilities, and interests, and works to ensure that the learning program fits the student, not the other way around. Empowering parents and families to pick the best school for them via school choice also increases accountability through our entire education sector — an added benefit.

This National School Choice Week, parents, teachers, and students will gather at 51,300 events between January 26 and February 1. These events celebrate the accomplishments of school choice students, but they also offer a unique opportunity for interested parents to learn more about their school choice options. Many communities hold their own school fairs during National School Choice Week, which allow interested family members to learn more about school choice and explore their options in a no-pressure environment.

Parents want their children to receive the best education possible, because education represents the key to a brighter future. During National School Choice Week, we celebrate all K-12 options — including those in traditional public schools. I encourage you to learn more about the options available to you in your community and your state, because when more families actively choose their children’s schools and learning environments, more kids have the chance to learn, succeed, and be happy.