Missouri’s public K-12 education system needs an update. The quality of a student’s education has been determined by the ZIP code where their family can afford to live for far too long. Because of Missouri’s strict residential assignment system that determines where students can enroll in school, many students don’t have access to nearby public schools that may be a better fit for their learning needs. The K-12 Open Enrollment Act of 2023, introduced earlier this month in the Missouri House of Representatives, aims to change that by providing students with more educational choices.
This bill would establish a public school open enrollment program to provide all students the opportunity to attend the public school of their choice so long as seats are open in their grade level beginning in the 2024-25 school year.
Open enrollment programs can offer an array of benefits to students whose assigned school is not a good fit. Students may choose to switch public schools to access AP classes not offered at their assigned school, escape bullying, have a shortened commute, and much more. Open enrollment also encourages school districts to improve performance to attract and retain students. A recent study showed how California school districts that initially lost students because of open enrollment later improved their educational offerings and improved student retention as a result.
Under the proposed law, Missouri school districts could prioritize admission for certain students, such as siblings of current transfer students, those relocated due to foster care placement or students who are children of active-duty military personnel who have relocated due to orders.
But outside these special circumstances, school districts would not be able to discriminate against transfer applicants for reasons such as race, gender, disabling condition or academic record.
Finally, the bill would also make sure students can enroll in a non-assigned public school free of charge. Currently Missouri is one of 26 states that allow public schools to charge families tuition. These tuition costs can be a serious barrier for students seeking to transfer schools.
Currently, only 11 states, including Kansas and Oklahoma, have robust open enrollment laws. The K-12 Open Enrollment Act would not only allow Missouri to join their ranks, but it would also be the best open enrollment law in the nation.
As we observe the 12th annual National School Choice Week at the end of the month, remember that open enrollment can be the rising tide that lifts all boats for Missouri students.
A version of this column previously appeared in the Springfield News-Leader.