Jude Schwalbach, Author at Reason Foundation Free Minds and Free Markets Fri, 24 Feb 2023 16:48:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://reason.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/cropped-favicon-32x32.png Jude Schwalbach, Author at Reason Foundation 32 32 Funding Education Opportunity: Examining public school enrollment losses and sectors with gains, state education legislation, and more https://reason.org/education-newsletter/examining-public-school-enrollment-losses-and-sectors-with-gains-state-education-legislation/ Fri, 24 Feb 2023 16:01:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=education-newsletter&p=62771 Plus: South Carolina mulls expanding open enrollment, Texas governor calls for school choice reforms, and more.

The post Funding Education Opportunity: Examining public school enrollment losses and sectors with gains, state education legislation, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Where exactly did the 1.2 million students who left the public school system go during the COVID-19 pandemic? Until now, data on this topic has been hazy at best, but a new Urban Institute essay by Stanford University’s Thomas S. Dee featuring data from the Associated Press and data journalists at Stanford University’s Big Local News provides a snapshot of where approximately 58% of the 1.2 million students who left public schools went. Dee reviews K-12 enrollment changes by sector from 21 states, plus Washington, D.C., between the 2019-20 and 2021-22 school years.  

In the 21 states examined, public K-12 enrollment declined in every state except for three states and the District of Columbia. The AP and Stanford found that public K-12 enrollment dropped by approximately 711,000 students in those locations. California and New York experienced massive enrollment declines, with nearly 271,000 and 133,000 students leaving public schools. 

By contrast, K-12 enrollments increased in other schooling sectors. Homeschool enrollment grew by about 184,000 during the pandemic, as likely would’ve been expected, with the homeschooling sectors in Florida and New York growing the most. 

Private school enrollments also grew, but more modestly, increasing by nearly 103,000. Florida, again, and Tennessee experienced the most significant growth in their private schools. 

Yet, the private and homeschool sector growth only accounted for about 40% of public school enrollment losses. Dee estimated that population changes, such as students moving to other states and declining birth rates, accounted for more than a quarter of public school enrollment losses. 

At the same time, the report estimated that 240,133 students remain unaccounted for. These unexplained losses featured most prominently in California and New York, where nearly 152,000 and 60,000 students remain missing, respectively. 

Some absences are likely due to unregistered homeschooling and families not enrolling their children in kindergarten, which is optional in nine of the 21 reviewed states. In these cases, Dee estimated that skipping kindergarten accounted for almost 40% of unexplained absences.

Nonetheless, some students have not attended school for multiple years now. Researchers have previously estimated that the lifetime earnings of students who experienced just one year of learning loss could be reduced by more than 9%, so there will be long-term concerns about many of these students and their futures. 

These public school enrollment declines have also hastened financial crises for many school districts that were unprepared for them, especially urban ones. For instance, Minneapolis Public Schools announced an impending fiscal crisis due to declining enrollment last fall.

With fewer students in public schools and an increasing number of families more comfortable with switching schools, public school districts will need to up their game as they navigate a more competitive education marketplace. Research shows that school districts can positively respond to competitive pressures by implementing measures like open enrollment. 

Policymakers should weaken school district monopolies, so students have options outside of their residentially-assigned schools. Oftentimes students drop out of school because of bullying by other students, not feeling like they fit in with classmates, not getting the academic attention they need, or conflicts with teaching staff. Policies, such as education savings accounts and open enrollment, provide students with flexible schooling options to transfer to schools that fit their needs. Education savings accounts, in particular, allow for significant educational customization, paying for tuition, books, physical therapy, transportation, and much more.

From the states

State policymakers continue to advance school choice proposals nationwide.

The Utah State Senate failed to pass a proposal (S.B. 166) to make microschools legal in the state.

In Idaho, the Senate Education Committee passed a proposal (S.B. 1038) that would establish approximately 6,600 education savings accounts. These accounts could be used to pay for various approved education expenses, such as private school tuition or textbooks. There are no income restrictions on the accounts. 

The Arkansas Senate passed Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ LEARNS Act (S.B. 294), which would initially establish education savings accounts for students who are homeless, in foster care, have disabilities, or are assigned to failing public schools. However, student eligibility would expand by 2026 to all K-12 students. At the same time, the proposal would also remove any caps on charter schools and student transfers through open enrollment. Currently, the bill has 25 cosponsors in the Senate and 55 cosponsors in the House, providing a supermajority and majority, respectively.

What to watch

South Carolina policymakers are thinking about expanding open enrollment. Proposals in the South Carolina House and Senate would expand public school choice, allowing students to transfer to public schools other than their assigned ones. Currently, some public school districts in the Palmetto State permit students to participate in within-district open enrollment, but the new proposal would require all school districts to participate in cross- and within-district open enrollment. During his testimony, Reason Foundation Senior Policy Analyst Christian Barnard recommended adding transparency provisions to strengthen the proposal.

Texas governor’s State of the State address calls for school choice reforms. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called K-12 education an “emergency item” this legislative session. Noting that Texas successfully implemented education savings accounts (ESAs) for students with special needs during the pandemic, Gov. Abbott stated that Texas now needs to establish universal state-funded ESAs for all Texas families. 

Recommended reading 

A Poor Poverty Measure
Ishtiaque Fazlul, Cory Koedel, and Eric Parsons at Education Next

“While it has been understood for some time that school lunch enrollment as a poverty indicator is blunt and prone to error, the magnitude of the problem has not yet been fully appreciated. In exploring the rules, features, and processes of the National School Lunch Program, we find that the program’s design, incentives, and lack of income-verification enforcement likely contribute to the oversubscription.”

Stockton, Calif., School Officials Could Face Criminal Charges after Audit Finds ‘Sufficient Evidence’ of Relief Fund Fraud
Linda Jacobson at The74

“The audit by an independent California agency largely focused on a questionable $7.3 million contract paid for with pandemic relief funds. In 2021, former officials appeared to ram through the purchase of 2,200 ultraviolet air filters designed to kill COVID despite multiple warnings that they weren’t following laws and procedures, the report said.”

The Stakes Are Only Getting Higher For Pandemic School Aid Spending
Marguerite Roza at Forbes

“Districts need to plan now so students don’t face chaos at the start of the 2024 school year with classrooms and teachers shuffled, programs abruptly dropped, demoralized staff, and leaders focusing on nothing but budget woes. Past experience tells us that deep cuts are often inequitable and impact our neediest students the hardest.”


Are you a state or local policymaker interested in education reform? Reason Foundation’s Education Policy team can help you make sense of complex school finance data and discuss innovative reform options that expand students’ educational opportunities. Please reach out to me directly at jude.schwalbach@reason.org for more information.  

The post Funding Education Opportunity: Examining public school enrollment losses and sectors with gains, state education legislation, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Arkansas could be the 12th state to enact a robust open enrollment law https://reason.org/commentary/arkansas-could-be-the-12th-state-to-enact-a-robust-open-enrollment-law/ Thu, 23 Feb 2023 16:00:35 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=commentary&p=62749 The LEARNS Act would provide universal school choice for all Arkansas families by 2026.

The post Arkansas could be the 12th state to enact a robust open enrollment law appeared first on Reason Foundation.

For too long, Arkansas students’ public school options have been limited by residential assignment. This outdated and unfair method of school assignment sorts students into schools based on the geographic location of their homes.

This means that access to better public education options can depend on a family’s ability to essentially “buy” seats to better public schools through their mortgage inside the right school district boundaries.

However, a new Arkansas proposal aims to level the playing field, letting families pick their schools— public or private —regardless of their income. Introduced by State Sen. Breanne Davis, the LEARNS Act (Senate Bill 294), has already garnered the support of a supermajority in the Senate. The proposal also has 55 cosponsors in the state House and is strongly supported by Gov. Sarah Huckabee-Sanders.

This proposal would provide universal school choice for all Arkansas families by 2026. Children with disabilities, in foster care, homeless, and those assigned to failing schools would first gain access to an Education Freedom Account (EFA). But all children in the state would be eligible for an account within three years. Families could use their EFA to pay for approved education expenses, such as private school tuition, fees, school uniforms, and supplies. 

In addition to private school choice, the proposal would vastly expand the Arkansas Opportunity Public School Choice Act–the state’s cross-district open enrollment program. Cross-district open enrollment lets students transfer to public schools in school districts outside their assigned one. 

While all public school districts are required to participate in cross-district open enrollment, the policy is crippled because program participation is capped at 3% per school district. This means very few students can transfer through cross-district open enrollment.

Caps on participation help school districts retain their monopoly over the students that are geographically assigned to them. This means that school districts have little incentive to compete for new students or address the concerns of the students and parents assigned to their schools.

The LEARNS Act, however, would eliminate these arbitrary participation requirements. This reform would make Arkansas the 10th state to adopt a robust mandatory cross-district open enrollment law and the 12th state to have a law that requires mandatory open enrollment.

Any student could transfer to a public school outside their assigned school district. Moreover, students could transfer to their new public school for free, as they should be able to, since Arkansas is one of the 24 states that explicitly prohibits public schools from charging tuition to non-resident students.

Cross-district open enrollment is an essential form of school choice since it often lets students access better schooling options. For example, research from Texas and California found that students often transfer to schools with better test scores or more highly ranked than their assigned schools.

Moreover, in 2016 and 2021, California’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that students used the state’s cross-district option to transfer to schools that offered Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate courses, specific instructional models, or emphasized career preparation in particular fields.

Similarly, research on Ohio’s open enrollment program showed achievement benefits. It increased on-time graduation rates for transfer students who consistently used open enrollment, particularly those in high-poverty urban areas.

Open enrollment is a popular choice among families. For instance, participation in Wisconsin’s mandatory cross-district open enrollment program increased from 2,500 students during the 1997-98 school year to 70,000 students 23 years later. 

If signed into law, Arkansas’ refurbished open enrollment program would be a noteworthy example of a good education policy that lets students attend schools that are the right fit for them. The LEARNS Act could also weaken public schools’ unfair monopoly over students and encourage competition between schools. Significantly, families’ school choices would no longer depend on where they can afford to live, and instead, parents and students could choose the best schools for them.

The post Arkansas could be the 12th state to enact a robust open enrollment law appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Open enrollment could make Missouri a school choice leader https://reason.org/commentary/open-enrollment-could-make-missouri-a-school-choice-leader/ Mon, 06 Feb 2023 06:00:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=commentary&p=61526 Proposed legislation in Missouri would would establish a an open enrollment program to allow students the opportunity to attend the public school of their choice.

The post Open enrollment could make Missouri a school choice leader appeared first on Reason Foundation.

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.

The post Open enrollment could make Missouri a school choice leader appeared first on Reason Foundation.

National Microschooling Center founders illustrate how microschools are changing K-12 education https://reason.org/innovators/national-microschooling-center-founders-illustrate-how-microschools-are-changing-k-12-education/ Wed, 01 Feb 2023 15:48:39 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=innovators&p=61066 Microschools provide an innovative alternative for families looking to leave the traditional K-12 education system.

The post National Microschooling Center founders illustrate how microschools are changing K-12 education appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Many families reconsidered their relationships with K-12 education amid the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, microschools came to the fore.

Instead of building large schools accommodating hundreds or thousands of students, microschool leaders plant schools in storefronts, libraries, and empty dance studios. These small schools can range in size, serving anywhere from 5 to 100 or more students in multiple grade levels. 

Don Soifer is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer and Ashley Soifer is the Chief Innovation Officer and co-founder of the National Microschooling Center. Their organization provides information about microschools to parents, policymakers, and school leaders, and supports founders to launch their own. In this interview, we ask the Soifers why families are drawn to this alternative education model, what challenges microschool leaders face, how they are funded, and much more.

Jude: What is a microschool and how is it different from other education models?

Ashley: A microschool school is a small, intimate, flexible learning environment. There’s no cap on a microschool and school sizes can range anywhere from eight kids sitting around the living room to over 100 in an office building. But that group of 100 is likely broken up into smaller groups for learning. 

Jude: How are microschools different than a traditional classroom? 

Ashley: As a microschooling parent myself with three children in a microschool, it’s so exciting to have that connection with the educators that are with my children and to really tailor their individual education for each kiddo. If a child is working on a particular math program and the educator decides it’s just not working as well as it could be, they can adapt mid-year and shift to a different program. Some microschools follow state academic content standards while others may focus on social-emotional learning, use a science-based curriculum or utilize project-based learning.

Christian: What are the pitfalls of trying to set a standard definition for microschools?

Don: Since microschooling is so flexible, we’re reluctant to adopt definitions that might be too restrictive down the road. Once you define something, you put a bullseye on its back and that makes it very easy for regulators to find problems with it. At the end of the day, some amount of definition sounds helpful for parents, but let’s make sure that we don’t do it in a way that hamstrings the movement’s effectiveness or its potential to grow.

Jude: Why do families use microschools?

Don: Millions of families across the country have reevaluated their relationships with the institutions that they had historically relied upon to meet their educational needs. This looks very different in different places. In rural communities, we’re seeing a lot of interest in microschooling taking advantage of this golden age of digital content. Others, like Montessori microschools don’t rely on technology. 

At the same time, the hybrid aspects of microschooling haven’t really existed before. Families realized that they don’t need to have one exclusive provider for all of their educational needs. For example, some kids are in a microschool three days a week while the rest of the time is spent with a combination of tutors or classes. In terms of microschooling’s market share and the potential for students’ transformation – the sky’s the limit.

“Three-quarters of our microschool kids were more than two grade levels behind. But the microschool we ran for the city of North Las Vegas changed all that.”

Don Soifer

Jude: The public-private microschool you started in 2020 gained almost instant popularity. Why do you think microschools gained so much attention during the pandemic?

Don: When the pandemic began, it became obvious that the fifth largest school district in the country and all of the other educational options were not adequate during the pandemic for North Las Vegas residents. Ashley and I worked up two briefing books, dropped them on the city manager’s desk the next morning and ran microschools for the city of North Las Vegas in their rec centers and library. The city made it free for all of their residents so long as microschools were in person every day with safe procedures in place aligned wih government mandates. Participating residents would withdraw from the school district and follow homeschooling rules.

Three-quarters of our microschool kids were more than two grade levels behind when they arrived. But the microschool we ran for the city of North Las Vegas changed all that. Academic results and parental satisfaction were through the roof because we trusted them as partners in their children’s learning trajectories.

As we got more positive press for what we were doing, we realized we had 25 microschooling leaders coming to our office regularly who were building this exciting, vibrant, dynamic sector that had never existed before. This led us to launch the National Microschooling Center.

Jude: What advice would you give someone who wants to start a microschool? 

Ashley: The first thing is to talk to people in your community, gather interested families, and hear about their children. At the National Microschool Center, we take calls from folks that are interested in starting a microschool and provide support and resources. Don’t be afraid to jump in and microschool! 

Don: Microschoolingcenter.org has a lot of resources from free training and learning tools about how to microschool. Many of our calls and emails are parents looking to join a microschool, but we often shift them into building mode. Researchers tell us that we’re at about a 2% market share nationally, which is about where Catholic schools are in this country. But I believe microschooling could get to a 10% market share. 

“One of the biggest barriers that microschool leaders experience is zoning because even though microschooling has been around for quite some time, local regulators don’t always know where to put microschools.”

Ashley Soifer

Jude: What sort of financial or policy barriers are there for families interested in microschooling? 

Don: Policymakers should avoid making deals that could hamstring the effectiveness of microschools. For instance, overbearing accountability provisions can make it difficult for microschools to operate. Some microschools care more about the social and emotional growth of their learners than they do about their academic growth. Some never want to subject their learners to a norm-referenced assessment, let alone a criterion-referenced assessment. Others reject their state’s academic content standards as not being entirely pertinent to the future of their own learners.

Ashley: One of the biggest barriers that microschool leaders experience is zoning because even though microschooling has been around for quite some time, local regulators don’t always know where to put microschools. They start asking questions like: Do we need to do a traffic study? Are you a school? Do we need to figure out if pickup and drop off is going to cause backups on this major road? What does your parking lot look like? When those really aren’t things that usually matter because microschools are so small. So often the barriers we encounter come from local regulations, such as business licensing.

Jude: How are microschools funded exactly?

Ashely: It varies from state to state. In the city of North Las Vegas, the kiddos withdrew from the public school system and all the parents filed out their notice of intent. So they became homeschoolers but were coming to the microschool five days a week and learning The program was funded by city appropriation, completely outside of traditional education funding streams.  

In other states, some microschools are private schools or are inside traditional public schools. And there are some really innovative things happening in Arizona and Idaho with charter schools. Bottomline, it depends on your state’s frameworks and what tools let you serve the needs of your community best. 

Don: When we did a microschool for the City of North Las Vegas, we did it in rec centers and libraries that the city owns already. While Nevada is not historically a school choice-friendly state, Nevada’s TOTS (Transforming Opportunities for Toddlers and Students) Grants gives $5000 grants to families with special needs kids that can be used broadly for education purposes. Those funds supported microschools. Another example from Nevada is a microschool that operates out of a library in a rural area. The free library building covers a major facility cost, while other library-funded services can be used for microschooling purposes. States with social impact bond programs or pay-for-performance programs that could be accessed for microschooling are another possibility.  

Jude: What are the major costs associated with operating a microschool?

Ashley: Facilities are one of the major costs. If it’s a partnership microschool and there’s an employer providing the facility or house of worship providing the facility, that cuts down a ton on cost. Independent microschool leaders should connect with underutilized buildings. For instance, dance studios that are only open in the evenings could be happy to rent their space out at a much cheaper cost during the day.

Being creative with facilities is crucial because that cuts down some of those big-ticket items. Staffing is another big ticket item. Sometimes we purchase bulk licenses for different learning tools that will also provide free training so that microschool leaders can use them. That way, we can help them keep their bottom line low.

“We see the answer to scale as growing more microschool leaders. By creating more leaders you can have more microschool options popping up all over the country.”

Ashley Soifer

Jude: To what extent can microschools be scaled by operators? 

Ashley: Provider networks like Prenda play a crucial role in the microschool movement making resources for microschool leaders. The independent microschool leaders really don’t want to scale. They want to create a small intimate learning environment that families love, and they often aren’t looking to add multiple campuses or to grow their existing campus. We see the answer to scale as growing more microschool leaders. By creating more leaders you can have more microschool options popping up all over the country.

Jude: Are there any states where the microschool movement has grown significantly in the last few years? 

Don: In Southern Nevada, we have about 24 microschools. Other emerging hotspots include the Atlanta area, Southern Florida, Wichita, to some extent parts of New Jersey. It’s just a matter of time until Indiana, West Virginia, and Arizona with their school-choice vehicles join the microschooling community with a big-time presence.

Jude: How is microschooling different from homeschooling? 

Ashley: Oftentimes, it depends on your state. Some are taught by parents or other family members who say, “Hey, we need a better solution for our kiddos.” Others come from a variety of career fields. In the microschool venture with the city of North Las Vegas, our star middle school math teacher ran pyrotechnics at one of the shows on the Strip here in Las Vegas. What middle school kid doesn’t want to hear how he uses math every day to blow things up? 

Others are veteran teachers. One of our best microschool leaders in Nevada taught in an independent school and got tired of shutting her door to teach the way that she wanted. So she opened a microschool so that she can now teach the way that’s best for kids.

Jude: What advice do you have for policymakers interested in supporting microschools in their cities and states? 

Don: They should call us! What’s exciting to me is that this is truly a permissionless education and systems don’t always know what to make of microschools. We can help people navigate the existing frameworks and especially those in their state, municipal, or locality. It’s time to upgrade and update the frameworks in which microschools operate.

Jude: What final thoughts do you have for readers?

Don: This is about empowering families to build and not join, and to be active partners in learning in ways that fundamentally change the relationship people have historically had with education. Microschooling represents a new frontier with some great forward-thinking people, it has diversified in ways that we maybe haven’t seen in school choice experiments during the past 15 years. We have as many microschooling leaders who are as hard left as hard right, and it brings together a community that in some way raises the ceiling on what happens when school choice becomes a possibility and families project into it their own values and what they want for their own kids. 

The post National Microschooling Center founders illustrate how microschools are changing K-12 education appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Funding Education Opportunity: School choice in rural America, 2023 education legislation, and more https://reason.org/education-newsletter/school-choice-in-rural-america-2023-education-legislation-and-more/ Mon, 30 Jan 2023 18:13:23 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=education-newsletter&p=61595 Plus: New research on how to fund public school transfer students, school closures and more.

The post Funding Education Opportunity: School choice in rural America, 2023 education legislation, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

With state legislatures now in session across the country, policymakers in states like Oklahoma and Texas are considering school choice proposals, Iowa is celebrating passing universal education savings accounts, and states like Arkansas and Missouri may take up the issue of open enrollment. New research on these key education issues can help policymakers and stakeholders.

For example, with rural lawmakers and school districts often opposed to school choice, a new report suggests that students residing in rural areas may have much to gain from school choice policies. A report by Heritage Foundation’s Jason Bedrick and Matthew Ladner finds most children living in rural areas are often closer to private school options than some might think. In fact, seven in 10 students living in rural areas live within 10 miles of a private elementary school. The report also found that the number of tax-credit scholarships awarded to Arizona students living in five rural counties increased by 163% between the 2010-11 and 2020-21 school years, showing how school choice policies can benefit students living in rural areas. 

Arizona’s robust school choice options, which “reach further into rural areas than in any other states,” have not been a death knell for rural school districts, the report says. In fact, since charter schools were first introduced in 1994, the state has only consolidated rural school districts in two counties, closed one school district (which had no charter or private schools in it), and created one new school district, Bedrick and Ladner noted.

This phenomenon is not unique to Arizona. Last year, Ron Matus and Dava Hankerson of Step Up for Students released a report showing the positive effects of school choice policies for families living in rural Florida. During the past 20 years, the number of private schools in the Sunshine State’s rural counties expanded from 69 to 120. Matus and Hankerson point out that, “In Florida’s rural counties, the number of students using ESAs [education savings accounts] has grown from 65 in year one to 731 last year, to 1,985 and counting this fall.” This demonstrates that the education marketplace can respond to demand when given a chance to compete with the public school districts’ monopolies. 

This year’s National School Choice Week also made it clear that more policymakers across the country are realizing that education freedom and rural school districts can thrive side by side. As Matus and Hakerson noted, “School choice doesn’t make the sky fall on rural district schools. But it does help part the clouds for rural families who need options for their children.”

And this rural education marketplace should also include public school open enrollment, a valuable school choice policy. A new Reason Foundation report also highlights how states can implement open enrollment funding policies that allow state and local education dollars to follow students to their public schools of choice. “States can take three different pathways to improve portability: comprehensive school finance reform, targeted solutions, and creating a distinct funding mechanism that supports open enrollment,” the study shows.

A competitive education marketplace can be the tide that raises all boats. 

From the States

State policymakers continue to introduce energetic school choice proposals across the nation.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Students First Act, which would provide universal education saving accounts to Iowa families. The new law makes all K-12 students in Iowa eligible to receive a $7,598 voucher. Iowa is now one of three states to have universal education savings accounts.

The Utah House and Senate both passed a proposal (House Bill 215) that would provide 5,000 K-12 students with approximately $8,000 in scholarships. Scholarship recipients could use them to pay for tutoring, private school tuition, and homeschooling. Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signed the bill into law this past weekend.

In Missouri, a proposal by Rep. Ben Baker would require all school districts to participate in open enrollment. If passed, HB 559 would make Missouri’s open enrollment law the strongest in the nation.

Texas policymakers introduced two school choice proposals in January. Rep. Mayes Middleton introduced Senate Bill 176–the Texas Parental Empowerment Act would establish parent-controlled accounts which can be funded through tax credits. Parents could use these accounts to pay for approved education expenses, such as private school tuition or fees, books, or tutoring. House Bill 557, filed by Rep. Cody Vasut, would reimburse Texas parents for private school tuition and other education-related expenses, such as transportation costs.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears and State Delegate Glenn Davis introduced a proposal (House Bill 1508) for education success accounts. Eligible students could use these accounts to pay for private school tuition and other approved educational expenses. Upon parents’ request, Virginia would transfer a percentage of the state funds that would otherwise have been allocated to the school district in which the student resides. The Virginia House Education Committee recently voted to advance the proposal, assigning it to the appropriations committee.

What to watch

Kentucky Anti-Charter School Lawsuit Riles School Choice Proponents. Although charter schools have been legal in Kentucky since 2017, none have ever opened. A 2022 law requiring two pilot charter schools in northern Kentucky aimed to change that, but the Council for Better Education, Jefferson County Public Schools, and Dayton Independent Schools recently filed a lawsuit to block the law from going into effect. 

Dayton Public Schools Faces Heavy Fine for Failing to Bus Charter School Students. Dayton Public Schools could be fined up to $750,000 by the Ohio Department of Education for not complying with a state law that requires school districts to provide transportation to students enrolled in charter schools that reside inside the school district. Dayton Public Schools stated that it couldn’t provide necessary transportation because of conflicting bell schedules and bus driver shortages. The school district is suing the state over the citation.

The First Round of West Virginia’s Hope Scholarships Distributed to Families. Approximately 1,800 recipients received their scholarships which can be used for private school tuition. Nearly 90% of recipients received the full annual amount of about $4,298. Earlier this month, the West Virginia treasurer filed an emergency amendment that would allow scholarship recipients to use their funds to pay for microschool tuition. If the secretary of state does not approve the rule by Feb. 15, it will automatically take effect. 

Recommended Reading 

Pandemic Schools and Religious Renewal
Lewis M. Andrews at National Affairs

“Senior centers, YMCAs, town halls, and other community venues that might normally have been available were, as a result of the pandemic, either closed, operating on limited hours, or committed to their own emergency efforts. By process of elimination, many families realized that the one place large enough, safe enough, and empty enough to run a small school during the workweek was the local parish.”

We Need to Prepare Now for The School Closures That Are Coming
Tim Daly at Fordham

“My advice to cities grappling with falling enrollment is to begin planning now. Engage in robust processes to take community input on which schools will close and when. But do not drag your feet hoping for a miracle that saves you from the scourge of closures altogether… Instead, invest your time and resources in helping families transition… Give families a real voice in determining their child’s new placement—and offer assistance in the pursuit of seats in charter schools, as well as traditional district schools.”

Public Schools Have Lost over a Million Students. Here’s Where They’re Going
Matthew Lee and Lynn Swaner at National Review

“Rising enrollments in choice schools, particularly in private schools, not only provide evidence of a continuing school-choice wave sweeping the country but also demonstrate how these learning environments will continue to be an important part of the United States’ educational fabric.”


Are you a state or local policymaker interested in education reform? Reason Foundation’s Education Policy team can help you make sense of complex school finance data and discuss innovative reform options that expand students’ educational opportunities. Please reach out to me directly at jude.schwalbach@reason.org for more information.  

The post Funding Education Opportunity: School choice in rural America, 2023 education legislation, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Funding Education Opportunity: K-12 student enrollment updates, 2023 education legislation, and more https://reason.org/education-newsletter/k-12-student-enrollment-updates-2023-education-legislation/ Tue, 20 Dec 2022 15:28:10 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=education-newsletter&p=60763 Plus: New Hampshire teachers' union sues state DOE, Oklahoma charter schools and more.

The post Funding Education Opportunity: K-12 student enrollment updates, 2023 education legislation, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

K-12 public schools lost more than 1.1 million students from the spring of 2020 to the spring of 2022.

New data from Burbio, a service aggregating school enrollment and budget data, sheds light on how public school K-12 enrollments have fluctuated this school year (2022-23) in 15 states. Of the states reported, Burbio revealed that South Carolina (1.0% increase in K-12 students), North Dakota (1.3%), Massachusetts (0.2%), Utah (0.1%), Delaware (0.4%), Arkansas (0.6%), Georgia (0.6%), and Virginia (0.9%) experienced enrollment growth, while Indiana (-0.1% decrease in K-12 students), West Virginia (-0.3%), Wyoming (-0.4%), Mississippi (-0.5%), Idaho (-0.8%), Rhode Island (-0.8%) and Hawaii (-1.7%) saw enrollment drops.

  • Interestingly, Idaho’s public school enrollment growth of 1.8% from the 2021-22 school year was partly reversed with the state’s 0.8% decline this year.
  • Similarly, Wyoming experienced 7% enrollment growth between 2002 and 2020 but also saw student counts drop by 0.4% this year.

While most states have yet to announce their final enrollments for the start of the 2022-23 school year, preliminary reports from some large school districts may provide a sneak peek at trends. 

  • Recently, Minneapolis Public Schools reported it experienced a 2% decline in enrollment, and the school district’s finance committee announced an “impending financial crisis” due to the loss of students and expiring federal funds. 
  • Chicago Public Schools reported its K-12 enrollment dropped by 3% this fall.
  • And New York City Public Schools reported a 1.8% decline in K-12 enrollment. 

On the other hand, Arizona’s Department of Education announced in a preliminary report that the state’s K-12 public school enrollment has increased by 3.5% this school year.

Last school year, the states that experienced the largest declines in K-12 public school enrollment were New York (-2%) and California (-1.8%). K-12 enrollments still grew in about half of 50 states last year, with Montana, Idaho, Arizona, and South Carolina seeing the largest student growth in percentage terms. The net loss of public school students across the country was 91,000 students during the 2021-2022 year.

School districts grappling with changing enrollments must prepare for the fiscal consequences of fewer students, especially as federal emergency relief funds dry up. These factors mean that districts should do everything possible to prepare for slimmer budgets. Shortsighted spending decisions could have significant financial repercussions for school districts. Accordingly, school districts should shore up their budgets by rightsizing and using any remaining Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) dollars on temporary commitments.

From the states

State legislators have already pre-filed various school choice proposals across the nation.

In Missouri, Rep. Josh Hulbert pre-filed five proposals advancing education savings accounts, one of which is a universal school choice bill that would expand the state’s current MOScholars program to be open to all students. 

Two Texas legislators pre-filed proposals that would establish tax-credit education savings accounts. Under the proposals, parents could use these versatile accounts to pay for a variety of educational expenses, such as tutoring or private school tuition.

Ohio legislators are considering a proposal that would expand eligibility for the state’s voucher program to all students regardless of their household income. The proposal also aims to increase the existing income tax credit for homeschooling expenses from $250 to $2,000 a year. 

In Tennessee, legislators are considering a proposal that would expand school district eligibility to participate in the Volunteer State’s education savings account program. Current law limits participation to school districts with 10 schools that performed in the bottom 10%, whereas the proposal would allow school districts with five or more schools that performed in the bottom 10% to be eligible.

What to watch

Kentucky Supreme Court Rules Tax-Credit ESA Unconstitutional
The Kentucky Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Kentucky’s Education Opportunity Account Program violated the state’s constitution. These accounts allowed eligible parents to use money donated to account-granting organizations to pay for education expenses, such as private school tuition, tutoring, transportation, and more. Individuals that donated to an account-granting organization would receive a tax credit. The court wrote, “If the legislature thinks the people of Kentucky want this change, [it] should place the matter on the ballot.”

Teachers’ Union Sues New Hampshire DOE Over Education Freedom Accounts
The New Hampshire arm of the American Federation for Teachers is suing the New Hampshire Department of Education over the agency’s Education Freedom Accounts–education savings accounts available to students in low or middle-income households. Account holders can use them to pay for a variety of educational expenses, such as private school tuition, tutoring, and books. More than 3,000 students currently have an Education Freedom Account. The Institute for Justice, which successfully defended the Granite State’s tax-credit scholarship program in 2014, will represent Education Freedom Account holders.

Vermont Must Now Pay for Private School Tuition Under the Town Tuition Program
A recent settlement in the wake of Carson v Makin ended discrimination against religious private schools in Vermont. The Green Mountain State’s Town Tuition Program required towns to pay for the private education of any student that resided in a town without a public school. However, towns were not required to reimburse eligible families that enrolled their children in religious private schools. Not only did the recent settlement deem this policy unconstitutional, but the Vermont Education Agency also issued a letter to school districts requiring them to treat private religious schools the same as secular ones.

Oklahoma to Open the Nation’s First Religious Charter School
The Oklahoma Attorney General released an opinion that prohibitions against religious charter schools are unconstitutional in the wake of recent Supreme Court decisions. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City plans to submit an application for a virtual charter school authorization. If approved, this would be the nation’s first religious charter school. However, the religious charter school would likely face legal challenges from the Freedom from Religion Foundation.

Recommended reading 

Rerouting the Myths of Rural Education Choice
Ron Matus and Dava Hankerson at Step Up for Students
“Families in rural Florida, like families everywhere, are choosing learning options other than district schools. In 2021-22, 16.7 percent of students in Florida’s 30 rural counties attended something other than a district school, whether a private school, charter school or home education. That’s up from 10.6 percent a decade prior.”

ICYMI: How is the new transfer law affecting schools? It depends on which districts you ask
Andrea Eger at Tulsa World
“We’ve always lived on a lot of transfers, and I think we’re a well-kept secret,” said Superintendent Sherry Durkee, whose district has seen a 23% increase in transfer students compared with last year’s numbers. “There has been a big change in expectations with people wanting versatility to access education like they want it. We have made a concerted effort to maximize choice within the district because we have to get on board with the way of the future.”

The Ohio EdChoice Program’s impact on school district enrollments, finances, and academics
Stéphane Lavertu and John J. Gregg at Fordham Institute
“The analysis indicates that the performance-based EdChoice program led to lower levels of segregation among minority students, no change (and perhaps an increase) in district expenditures per pupil, no change in districts’ ability to generate local revenue (leading to an increase in local revenue per pupil), and higher academic achievement among the remaining district students.”

The post Funding Education Opportunity: K-12 student enrollment updates, 2023 education legislation, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

How will K-12 student enrollment changes impact public schools? https://reason.org/commentary/how-will-k-12-student-enrollment-changes-impact-public-schools/ Tue, 20 Dec 2022 05:01:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=commentary&p=60598 Pandemic enrollment loses and declining birth rates are bad news for many school district budgets.

The post How will K-12 student enrollment changes impact public schools? appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Enrollment in public schools nationwide has drastically declined since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, dropping by more than 1.2 million students between the 2019-20 school year and the 2022-23 school year. For many school districts, student enrollment projections remain uncertain as families have become more comfortable shopping for other school options like virtual private schools or homeschooling co-ops. This continued decline in public school enrollment, which is more pronounced in urban school districts, will have serious impacts on school district finances.

As American Enterprise Institute’s Nat Malkus and doctoral student Cody Christensen pointed out in Education Next, “If enrollment remains lower in the future, smaller districts could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, and larger districts could lose millions, compared to pre-pandemic revenues.”

Declining U.S. Birthrate Likely to Impact Student Enrollment

Public school enrollment declined by 3% or more in 19 states between 2020 and 2022, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s “Return to Learn Tracker,” which has recorded K-12 enrollment trends since 2020.

But many states were experiencing enrollment declines well before the pandemic and March 2020. In fact, K-12 student enrollment dropped in 22 states between 2002 and 2020. While school districts in some regions might regain some of these students in future years, other factors, including low birth rates, will likely contribute to lower student counts going forward.

Between the 2010 and 2020 censuses, the country’s under-18 population decreased by 1%, from 74.2 million to 73.1 million, USA Facts reported in 2021. The smaller child population is in part due to the long-declining U.S. birth rate, which has been below replacement since 1971 and experienced a notable decline after 2007. 

In fact, the U.S. population under the age of 18 dropped in 27 states between 2010 and 2020. “When birthrates decline, we see a drop in kindergarten enrollment five years later that tracks from one school grade to the next,” Tulane University Professor Douglas N. Harris and Valentina Martinez-Pabon, postdoctoral associate at Yale University, pointed out in Education Week.

Although the United States has long bolstered its low birth rate with immigrant populations, net immigration fell by about 75% between 2016 and 2020. Moreover, immigrant fertility rates declined by 158,000 births between 2008 and 2019, even though the number of female immigrants who were of childbearing age increased by 9%. In 2019, “for what is almost certainly the first time in American history, the immigrant fertility rate was below replacement level,” wrote Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, in National Affairs.

Declining U.S. and immigrant birth rates are bad news for many school districts’ budgets because states use student enrollment figures to allocate education funds. Thus, school districts with declining enrollments will likely face financial repercussions. 

However, not all school districts will feel the effects of lower student counts immediately. More than half of states have hold harmless provisions, which let school districts use previous years’ attendance records to calculate state funding. This practice allows schools to receive funding for students who are no longer enrolled. For example, Pennsylvania is one state that employs a generous hold harmless provision. According to the non-profit Children First, “The [Pennsylvania school] districts have lost a total of 167,000 students since 1991-92 — a fifth of their student body — but they haven’t lost any money, instead of receiving increased funding each year. They now have $590 million tied to students they no longer educate.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, 22 states adopted temporary hold harmless provisions, which let school districts continue to receive funding based on student counts from before 2020. Most of these temporary hold harmless provisions were set to expire after the 2021-22 school year, but at least four states extended their pandemic hold harmless provisions through the 2023-24 school year.

Once these temporary provisions expire, however, some school districts will likely experience significant financial blows as their student counts reflect the pandemic-era exodus from public education. “Even a 1% loss of enrollment tends to be financially destabilizing for districts,” Hannah Jarmolowski and Marguerite Roza of the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown University wrote in a 2021 report

Urban School Districts’ Enrollment Challenges

Minneapolis Public Schools is one district that has found itself in financial straits due to its student population changes. The Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) Finance Committee announced in November 2022 that the school district “is approaching an impending fiscal crisis” due to declining enrollment.   

Projections indicate that MPS enrollment will only be 23,000 students in 2028, 12,000 fewer students than in 2018. However, the pandemic merely exacerbated an existing enrollment exodus as the district’s enrollment had steadily declined since the 2002-03 school year when the district served more than 46,000 students. Moreover, the recent  MPS report showed that “the number of children ages 5 and under living in the city fell 17% between 2020 and 2021,” indicating that the district’s enrollment challenges will only get worse.  

Minneapolis is not the only urban school district facing difficult financial decisions. Earlier this year in California, Oakland Unified School District’s Board of Education voted to close seven schools over the next two years. Time Magazine reported that, as of February, the school district’s enrollment had declined by more than 4,000 students during the past five years. 

Similarly, Boston Public Schools’ (BPS) enrollment dropped for the eighth year in a row, and the district has hemorrhaged more than 8,000 students over the last decade. The Boston Globe reported that “96 out of the district’s 120 schools were underenrolled” last year. In addition to the Boston School Committee voting to permanently close three middle schools in 2021 in response to low student counts, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu also proposed renovating or consolidating 15 schools by the 2025-26 fiscal year.

These examples are snapshots of the enrollment challenges that some school districts, especially urban ones, now face. Research has shown that urban school districts that relied on remote learning the longest has more enrollment loss. AEI reported that the school districts that stayed remote the longest lost 1.2% more students in the 2021-22 school year than in the previous year. On the other hand, school districts that returned to in-person learning sooner, oftentimes those located in suburban or rural areas, mostly experienced enrollment rebounds. 

Thankfully school districts can weather much of the potential financial storm by adapting to new enrollment figures. The University of Miami’s Bruce Baker showed that school districts across the nation rightsized after student counts dropped when many students opted for charter schools during the early 2000s. School districts like Newark City Schools in New Jersey and Kansas City Public Schools in Missouri reduced overhead or administrative expenses and, as Baker puts it, these school districts “have largely been able to achieve and maintain reasonable minimum school sizes, with only modest increases in the shares of children served in inefficiently small schools.” 

However, rightsizing is easiest when school districts plan for the long term by using actual student counts and avoiding overly rosy projections. Shortsightedness can lead to painful layoffs or substantial budget deficits, as experienced by the School District of Philadelphia and Detroit Public Schools last decade. 

A Guide to Rightsizing

A key to effective rightsizing is flexible spending options for district and school leaders. As Reason Foundation education researchers pointed out, right-sizing is about “optimizing all facets of operations with the goal of providing high-quality options to all students at a cost that aligns with revenues.” This means that state policymakers must resist the temptation to make overly prescriptive policies that tie the hands of school leaders. It is important to maximize flexible spending options for district leaders to ensure that education funds are not tied to well-intended but overly-specific schooling inputs or other mandates, such as class-size requirements. 

For example, when state education dollars are earmarked for specific music instruction or counseling services, school district leaders can’t repurpose those funds for more pressing priorities even when budget cuts are necessary. Prioritizing flexible spending options for school districts helps ensure that school leaders have more options when they have to reduce expenditures and lets them use funds in ways that are best for their students.

Amidst the economic uncertainty and high inflation, some states will need to tighten their fiscal belts, especially as federal emergency relief funds dry up. California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office published a report last month estimating the state will face a $24 billion deficit in 2023-24. The report urged California legislators to “consider saving reserves for a recession when the budget problem could be twice as large as the one identified in our outlook.”

School districts should act now to prevent flat-footed responses to potentially lower enrollments in the years ahead. The good news is that school districts can adopt a variety of policies that can relieve tight budgets. A few of these policies are discussed below.

Adopt Weighted Student Funding. This policy allocates education funding to students based on their real needs and the money follows the students to the school within the school district in which they enroll. For instance, students in Atlanta Public Schools receive additional dollars based on their grade level, prior academic performance, or if they are English Language Learners or living in poverty. Weighted student funding (WSF) ensures that resources are directed to the schools that students actually attend. This means that under-enrolled schools are no longer unfairly subsidized by schools with higher enrollment. As a result, school budgets are based on actual student counts instead of staffing positions.

“WSF mitigates these problems by equalizing dollars for similar students and by empowering local leaders with the flexibility to make budgeting decisions that are best for their communities,” Reason Foundation’s Christian Barnard wrote. In fact, a 2019 nationwide study by the U.S. Department of Education showed that “WSF district administrators reported that …53 percent… of their total operational spending was under school discretion, compared with 8 percent in non-WSF districts.”

Currently, at least 30 school districts and Hawaii have implemented weighted student funding. 

Adopt K-12 Open Enrollment. This policy lets students transfer to a public school with available capacity other than their residentially assigned one. Open enrollment breaks the artificial lines drawn by school district boundaries and catchment zones and allows students to enroll in schools that are a good fit for them. For districts facing declining enrollment, this policy presents an opportunity to attract new students from other school districts. In fact, rural school districts in Texas have been found to use open enrollment to keep the lights on when too few students live inside the district boundaries to support the district. These school districts actively seek to attract students from other districts to make ends meet. Currently, only 11 states have mandatory open enrollment laws.

Leverage Retirements and Staff Leaving. While labor might feel like a fixed cost to many school districts, it does not have to be. As aging teachers and staff retire or leave, school districts should resist the temptation to replace them if they’ve lost students in recent years. Labor is often a school district’s biggest cost so being wise with staffing is a key to balancing the budget. In fact, Edunomic Lab’s Marguerite Roza notes that staff turnover can be an “opportunity to stash more in reserves, use stipends to boost the pay for current staff to pick up some of the load or issue a service contract. Reducing the overall staff count results in fewer dollars tied up in benefits and more dollars available to retain existing staff in a downturn.” 

Closing Under-Enrolled Schools. Unfortunately, massive enrollment loss can mean that some school districts must prepare to close under-enrolled schools. Permanent school closures often face formidable pushback from affected families, even when the closures would benefit most students. As a result, school district leaders need to prepare a robust strategy that is transparent and shows parents why those schools must be closed and how students will be served.

Paul Hill and Parker Baxter from the Center for Reinventing Public Education have pointed out that a successful strategy for necessary school closures must include clear metrics for closures, public data on all schools, and transparency. They wrote, “School system leaders need to strike a balance between using simple, transparent criteria while providing enough leeway to consider subjective factors, such as school leadership quality or whether the low-performing school seems to be improving. These criteria also need to be spelled out in advance.”

While rightsizing a school district is often painful, it can make education funds more flexible and versatile, ultimately benefiting students. When education dollars are flexible and reflect actual student counts, school leaders can make the spending decisions that will help their students best. 

The post How will K-12 student enrollment changes impact public schools? appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Arkansas students and families need better public school transfer options https://reason.org/commentary/arkansas-students-and-families-need-better-public-school-transfer-options/ Thu, 01 Dec 2022 15:45:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=commentary&p=59498 Restrictive state laws make it difficult for Arkansas students to transfer to a new public school.

The post Arkansas students and families need better public school transfer options appeared first on Reason Foundation.

In Arkansas, the quality of a student’s education is often determined by where their family can afford the price of rent or a mortgage. Plus, restrictive state laws make it difficult for students to transfer to a public school within or outside of their current school district.

To start to fix this and help families find public schools that work for them, Arkansas policymakers should update the state’s open enrollment program.

What is open enrollment?
Public school open enrollment programs allow families to easily transfer to a public school outside of their residentially assigned school districts or catchment zones.

How can open enrollment help students?
Students can want to transfer to public schools for a variety of reasons, including getting access to specialized courses, pursuing extracurricular opportunities, avoiding bullying, solving transportation problems, and more.

Arkansas’ open enrollment program falls short

While Arkansas currently has a cross-district open enrollment program that facilities student transfers across school district lines, the open enrollment program is capped at 3% per school district. This means only a handful of students have access to the public schools that could be fits for their needs each school year.

Furthermore, Arkansas’ within-district open enrollment program only allows students’ attending a public school with an “F” ranking to transfer to a new building within their school district. This hurts families who could be seeking a new public school for reasons other than academics, including seeking to escape bullying, the location of a parent’s job, sports or arts offerings, and more.

Open Enrollment Policy Best PracticeArkansas Policy
Mandatory Cross-District Open EnrollmentX
Mandatory Within-District Open EnrollmentX
Transparent Reporting by the State Education Agency (SEA)X
Transparent School Capacity Reporting X
Children Have Free Access to All Public Schools ✔

The lone bright spot of Arkansas’ open enrollment program is that public school districts are not allowed to charge families tuition to enroll.

More information from the state of Arkansas on its open enrollment program. the Public School Choice Act of 2015, or the Opportunity School Choice Act, can be found here.

Arkansas is not alone in falling short of providing quality student transfer options and needing to improve open enrollment policies. A new Reason Foundation study found that only 11 states have strong and transparent open enrollment options for families. The map below shows how many of Reason’s five best practices for open enrollment each state has on its books.

Public School Open Enrollment Across the U.S.

How to fix it

Arkansas policymakers can make simple but important statute changes to remedy many of the state’s restrictive public school transfer options.

#1 – Make student transfer information available to parents.
Parents should be able to easily access information about open enrollment application deadlines and school capacity by grade level on school district websites.

#2 – Remove the 3% cap on cross-district transfers.
Policymakers should not place an arbitrary limit on the number of students that can transfer to a nearby public school that has open seats.

#3 – Allow universal within-district transfers.
Students should always have the option of switching to a public school within their school district but outside of their residential catchment zone.

#4 – Implement transparency measures.
Public school districts should be required to report the reasons they reject transfer applications, which would help ensure accountability. The state should collect data on how many students are participating in the open enrollment program each year.

To learn more about Arkansas’ current student transfer rules and how to expand families’ public school options, check out this episode of the Believe in Arkansas podcast with host Ryan Morris and me.

Sign up for the monthly newsletter, Funding Education Opportunity, to receive exclusive analysis from Reason Foundation and stay up to date on state and federal education policy news. 

The post Arkansas students and families need better public school transfer options appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Funding Education Opportunity: Midterm school choice success, new K-12 open enrollment report, and more https://reason.org/education-newsletter/midterm-school-choice-success-new-k-12-open-enrollment-report-and-more/ Tue, 29 Nov 2022 15:41:19 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=education-newsletter&p=60030 Plus: California's new education spending mandate.

The post Funding Education Opportunity: Midterm school choice success, new K-12 open enrollment report, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

While the midterm elections will likely leave Congress in political gridlock, candidates from both major political parties supporting school choice policies won impressive victories. On the Republican side, with the exception of Arizona, every state in which the GOP held a trifecta—governor and both legislative chambers—going into the election and had “enacted large, new school-choice programs or significantly expanded existing ones in the past two years kept that trifecta,” noted The Heritage Foundation’s Jason Bedrick and Lindsey Burke.

The midterms helped illustrate school choice can be a winning policy issue for candidates. Voters in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, where about 75% of students are enrolled in school choice programs, issued a strong rebuke to Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor running as a Democrat, and his anti-school choice running mate Karla Hernandez-Mats, president of United Teachers of Dade. While President Joe Biden won Miami-Dade by seven points in 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis trounced Crist with an 11-point victory in the county.

And this trend is not unique to school choice bastions like Florida. Corey DeAngelis pointed out in The Wall Street Journal that Democrats like Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro, Gov. J. B. Pritzker of Illinois, and Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York won their races while supporting school choice policies.

Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Democrats in the state legislature, in particular, showed significant support for school choice when most “joined all legislative Republicans in enacting the largest expansion of the Keystone State’s school-choice policy in state history.”

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, support for school choice policies is strong. For instance, nearly 80% of Pennsylvania respondents, 76% of Illinois respondents, and 80% of New York respondents with school-aged children supported education savings accounts, according to an EdChoice poll.

Support for more flexible education options is unsurprising. Gallup polling from August 2022 showed that 55% of respondents were either somewhat or completely dissatisfied with the state of K-12 education, the highest level of dissatisfaction in the poll since 2018. 

As the American Enterprise Institute’s Fredrick Hess noted, “Parents don’t really want to return to the status quo ante of public education. Indeed, more than half of all parents say—after the pandemic experience—that they’d like to retain some element of homeschooling going forward.” 

In light of some sweeping school choice victories, policymakers and candidates on all sides of the aisle should embrace school choice policies that help students and appeal to parents and voters.

From the States

Reason Foundation’s new report, “Public schools without boundaries: A 50 state ranking of K-12 open enrollment,” shows that most states need to implement better student transfer policies.

Unfortunately, the study finds most states’ open enrollment options fall short of good policy. In fact, only 11 states require all school districts to participate in open enrollment, just three states require state education agencies to publish annual reports on student transfers, seven states require school districts to post their open seats by grade level, and only 24 states prohibit school districts from charging transfer students tuition. While no state meets every policy best practices on Reason Foundation’s open enrollment checklist, some states provide good models for other states to replicate. 

Florida: The state’s open enrollment law could serve as a model for other states. All school districts in the Sunshine State are required to participate in both cross-district and within-district open enrollment and must regularly report the number of available seats by grade level so parents have access to this important information. Moreover, Florida cannot charge transfer students’ families tuition or fees, and the state’s school districts are allowed to provide transportation to transfer students, two barriers families in many other states face.

Wisconsin: The most laudable facet of Wisconsin’s open enrollment option is the state’s funding mechanism for transfer students, which ensures state and local education dollars follow transfer students. This approach maximizes transparency and financially incentivizes all districts to participate in open enrollment. Moreover, the Badger State is one of the few states to have robust, transparent open enrollment reporting. Every year Wisconsin publishes an open enrollment report which provides important data on student transfers, such as the number of transfer students, how many transfer applications were rejected, and the reasons for their rejection. 

The study also highlights policies in each that are limiting students’ options and need to be reformed. For example:

Tennessee: Although Tennessee established a good within-district open enrollment policy in 2021, the state falls short in other important ways. For instance, cross-district open enrollment is voluntary in Tennessee, and all student transfers are at the discretion of the receiving local boards of education. Moreover, school boards can charge tuition or fees to transfer students. This can be a mammoth barrier for students whose families cannot afford the cost and creates perverse incentives for schools to “sell” their seats.

Ohio: Many wealthy and high-performing suburban school districts surrounding Ohio’s eight major cities refuse to participate in the state’s voluntary cross-district open enrollment program. This policy effectively keeps inner-city and nearby rural children from transferring to better schools in the suburbs. All too often, voluntary open enrollment means that the best schools with open seats can continue to exclude children from outside their boundaries, fundamentally undermining the program’s purpose. 

Texas: In Texas, cross-district open enrollment occurs only upon the approval of the receiving school district. Similarly, voluntary within-district transfers are at the discretion of the school district, and parents must petition their school district, making a case for why their children should be transferred to another school. The school district then decides to accept or reject the transfer students’ petitions. To make matters worse, Texas allows school districts to charge transfer students tuition even though they receive additional state aid for transfer students.

What to watch

Report: Enrollment declines were larger in schools that stayed remote for the longest
A new Education Next report by Nat Malkus and Cody Christensen showed that schools that remained fully remote for longer periods suffered more significant drops in K-12 enrollment. In particular, the largest enrollment drops involved younger children in kindergarten and elementary school grades.

California voters support mandated K-12 arts funding as deficit looms
Over 60 percent of California voters approved Proposition 28, a ballot initiative that increases funding for K-12 music and arts education by approximately $1 billion. The Los Angeles Times reported that the new law establishes a “guaranteed annual funding stream for music and arts education by requiring the state to set aside an amount that equals 1% of the total funding already provided to schools each year.”

While music and arts can play important roles, the need will vary, and this new law illustrates how mandated state spending can encumber local education leaders’ decision-making and prevent them from putting resources where they are needed most. California policymakers recently approved increasing K-12 education funding by $9 billion for the 2023 school year–an increase of nearly 13% even though K-12 student enrollments dropped by 4.4% during the pandemic, so most schools should’ve already had the money needed for music and arts. As California’s state leaders predict a $24 billion deficit for the upcoming year, the new spending mandate could very well take funds away from other instructional programs educators would normally prioritize. 

Recommended Reading 

A Crypto Warning From the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan
Mike McShane at Forbes
“Making teacher benefits more portable and flexible would allow teachers to determine their own risk tolerance and invest accordingly. It would free up state funding for classrooms and the salaries of the people that work in them. And, it would help eliminate the incentives for these large pension funds to take on more and more risk, hopefully helping stabilize our financial system writ large.”

As New York City Schools Face a Crisis, Charter Schools Gain Students
Troy Closson at The New York Times
“As traditional public schools in the nation’s largest system endure a perilous period of student loss and funding shortfalls, New York City’s charter schools are on an upward trajectory. The schools gained more than 10,000 children during the pandemic, though the expansion slowed last year, even as enrollment at other schools across the city — both public and private — fell steadily.”

Beyond School Choice: A Conservative K-12 Agenda
Fredrick Hess at American Enterprise Institute
“Conservatives have generally lacked a cohesive K–12 agenda, but they can win parents over by enhancing educational choice, increasing school accountability, and adhering to standards of academic excellence.” 

The post Funding Education Opportunity: Midterm school choice success, new K-12 open enrollment report, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Public schools without boundaries: Ranking every state’s K-12 open enrollment policies https://reason.org/policy-brief/public-schools-without-boundaries-a-50-state-ranking-of-k-12-open-enrollment/ Thu, 03 Nov 2022 15:00:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=policy-brief&p=59069 Only 11 states have mandatory open enrollment laws that allow students to easily transfer public schools and 26 states allow public schools to charge families tuition.

The post Public schools without boundaries: Ranking every state’s K-12 open enrollment policies appeared first on Reason Foundation.


In the United States, school assignments are determined by families’ residences, casting unseen dividing lines in communities throughout the country. These government-imposed district boundaries or catchment zones divide communities, sorting children—often by wealth or ethnicity—into schools based on where they live. Many are unaware of these divisions until they realize that access to certain public schools often comes down to where you live.

Open Enrollment Best Practices by State

For example, Kelsey Williams-Bolar—a single mom completing her degree and working as a teacher’s aide—realized that she could not continue to enroll her daughters in their assigned public school in Akron, Ohio. Not only were her daughters being bullied at school, but Akron public schools were low-performing and in poor condition.

She decided to have her children live part-time with her father in the suburbs. While there, she enrolled her children in the Copley-Fairlawn School District, where her father’s home was zoned. However, Williams-Bolar and her father were charged with felonies after a private investigator, hired by the Copley-Fairlawn School District, discovered that Williams- Bolar did not live inside the school district. Williams-Bolar received two concurrent five-year sentences (suspended to 10 days) for using her father’s address to enroll her children in a better school district. Nineteen cases, similar to Williams-Bolar’s, have been reported in eight states since 1996.

Williams-Bolar’s story illustrates how school district boundaries often serve as barriers to better education options for many families. Residential assignment can have long-term ramifications for students, even after they graduate from high school. For instance, Advanced Placement (AP) courses are a valuable tool for high school students, allowing them to receive college credit while still in high school. As of 2021, however, US News reported that nearly a quarter of high schools—mostly in rural areas—did not offer AP courses. This means that students assigned to rural public high schools could end up paying thousands of dollars more for college.

In fact, the Missouri Business Alert reported in 2020 that the difference in AP courses offered at two Missouri high schools, located less than 20 minutes from each other, could cost their respective graduates thousands of dollars. Students assigned to the rural Southern Boone High School could earn a maximum of five college credits, whereas students assigned to its more urban counterpart, Hickman High School, could earn a maximum of 18 college credits. This difference in available AP courses means that graduates from Southern Boone could end up paying nearly $4,000 more in college tuition at the University of Missouri than their peers from Hickman High.

These examples show that residential assignment locks students into their assigned schools even if they aren’t a good fit. Students need flexible education options that may not be available in their assigned district, such as specialized programming, school culture or learning philosophy, or better academic opportunities.

K-12 open enrollment provides a solution for families assigned to public schools that aren’t a good fit for their children. This policy would allow children to enroll in any public school so long as it has open seats. While 43 states have some sort of open enrollment, only 11 states have mandatory open enrollment laws.

This analysis is a roadmap for developing robust open enrollment. It explores the benefits of open enrollment, outlines the core tenets and best practices for open enrollment, examines which states have the best open enrollment policies on the books, and provides an open enrollment snapshot of all 50 states. These state snapshots show policymakers what each state is doing well, where each state falls short, and the necessary steps to establish robust open enrollment.

Reason Foundation’s Five Best Practices for Open Enrollment

  1. Mandatory Cross-District Open Enrollment: School districts are required to have a cross-district enrollment policy and are only permitted to reject transfer students for limited reasons, such as school capacity. Policies, including all applicable deadlines and application procedures, must be posted online on districts’ websites.
  2. Mandatory Within-District Open Enrollment: School districts are required to have a within-district enrollment policy that allows students to transfer schools within the school district, and are only permitted to reject transfer requests for limited reasons, such as school capacity. Policies, including all applicable deadlines and application procedures, must be posted online on districts’ websites.
  3. Transparent Reporting by the State Education Agency (SEA): The State Education Agency annually collects and publicly reports key open enrollment data by school district, including transfer students accepted, transfer applications rejected, and the reasons for rejections.
  4. Transparent School Capacity Reporting: Districts are annually required to publicly report seating capacity by school and grade level so families can easily access data on available seats.
  5. Children Have Free Access to All Public Schools: School districts should not charge families transfer tuition.

This report evaluated each state on these best practices to get a snapshot of where each state stands and provides recommendations for each state to improve open enrollment practices.

State-by-state Open Enrollment Analysis
StateTotal Best Practices (out of 5)Cross-District Open EnrollmentWithin-District Open Enrollment Transparent SEA ReportingSchool Capacity ReportingLaw Against Public School Tuition for Students
New Hampshire1XXXX✔
New Jersey0XXXXX
New Mexico0XXXXX
New York0XXXXX
North Carolina0XXXXX
North Dakota0XXXXX
Rhode Island1XXXX✔
South Carolina0XXXXX
South Dakota0XXXXX
West Virginia1XXXX✔
Total States Implementing Best Practices 9/49 7/50 3/50 7/5024/50

The post Public schools without boundaries: Ranking every state’s K-12 open enrollment policies appeared first on Reason Foundation.

The future of school choice: Funding all students through education savings accounts https://reason.org/commentary/the-future-of-school-choice-funding-all-students-through-education-savings-accounts/ Tue, 01 Nov 2022 18:00:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=commentary&p=59310 Making education savings accounts the default funding mechanism for K-12 education and eliminating residential assignment would establish a robust education marketplace that is parent-driven and student-centered.

The post The future of school choice: Funding all students through education savings accounts appeared first on Reason Foundation.

After an Arizona citizens’ referendum failed to block the state’s massive expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts last month, the Grand Canyon state now leads the nation in education customization. 

Arizona’s education savings account (ESA) expansion was a critical school-choice success, but the story should not stop here. Policymakers can do two things that go beyond Arizona’s reforms to truly revolutionize a state’s education system: make ESAs the default option for all students and eliminate residential assignment in public schools.

First, policymakers should not limit ESAs to those opting out of public schools but rather make these accounts the default funding system for all students. Instead of funding school districts based on factors such as property wealth, local tax effort, and complex formulas, state and local education funds would be streamlined and deposited into each student’s account. 

Under this system, these accounts would not just be used for private school tuition payments. Parents who enroll their children in public schools would pay these schools directly and could also use education savings accounts to pay for tutoring, courses at a community college, classes at a nearby public school, transportation, and more.

A funding system based on education savings accounts would let parents customize their children’s education options inside and outside the public school system. This means that students would no longer be locked into the courses offered at a single school. Instead, families could unbundle their children’s coursework and enroll in learning options wherever they see fit.

For example, students could take history and language arts classes at their local public school but also take their advanced math and science classes at a school in a nearby school district. The student’s ESA would pay for the classes in each school as well as any associated transportation costs. Ultimately, students could take classes online, at home, in a brick-and-mortar school, or any combination of available options.

Making education savings accounts the default funding mechanism to distribute state and local dollars would truly make a state’s entire education system student-centered. The versatility that ESAs provide means that public school students would no longer be locked into a particular school where one size fits all. Both public and private school students could customize their educations.

School districts would need to be nimble in this new education marketplace since dissatisfied families could leave and take their education dollars elsewhere. However, Education Next’s research on Florida’s school choice system and evaluations of California’s “District of Choice” program by the California Legislative Analyst’s Office shows that competition can spur innovation in public schools, making them responsive to market forces.

Interestingly, most parents gave high marks to their local public schools in a 2022 Education Next survey, with nearly 60% giving them an “A” or “B” grade. Most families would be likely to stay in their neighborhood public school, yet ESAs could give them options to customize on the margins. Furthermore, default education savings accounts would give dissatisfied families key decision-making power, no longer forcing them to support public schools that aren’t a good fit.

Policymakers could also eliminate residential assignment in public schools so that students can enroll in any public school with open seats, regardless of where they live. 

Residential assignment sorts students into schools based on where their families can afford to buy or rent a home. This method of public school assignment, however, inextricably links property wealth and schooling because high-quality schools are often located in more expensive neighborhoods.

To make matters worse, school district and attendance-zone boundaries often divide communities by race and socioeconomic divisions because the boundaries can reflect discriminatory and now-illegal housing redlining.

Several states, including Arizona, Florida, and Kansas, have weakened residential assignment through K-12 open enrollment. This policy allows students to transfer to public schools outside their geographically assigned school district or attendance zone boundaries.

While open enrollment lets students access different schooling options, a system of school assignment based on a student’s geographic residence remains in place. Open enrollment is good policy, but it could be vastly improved by eliminating residential assignment altogether so that no students are favored based on where they live.

In a system without residential assignment, parents and students could use various factors to select their school, such as academics, parents’ work commute, safety, transportation options, or specialized programming.

Residential school assignment is an archaic and often discriminatory policy. Eliminating these government-imposed boundaries would unfetter schooling from housing and make public schools responsive to market forces since they would no longer hold an artificial geographic monopoly.

In sum, school-choice proponents should celebrate Arizona’s groundbreaking victory, but they should not rest on their laurels. Making education savings accounts the default funding mechanism for K-12 education and eliminating residential assignment would establish a robust education marketplace that is parent-driven and student-centered.

A version of this column previously appeared at RealClearEducation.

The post The future of school choice: Funding all students through education savings accounts appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Funding Education Opportunity: Historic NAEP score declines, Census data on pandemic school spending, and more https://reason.org/education-newsletter/funding-education-opportunity-historic-naep-score-declines-census-data-show-pandemic-school-spending-trends-and-more/ Mon, 24 Oct 2022 22:25:27 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=education-newsletter&p=59205 Plus: How school choice debates are impacting gubernatorial races.

The post Funding Education Opportunity: Historic NAEP score declines, Census data on pandemic school spending, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Breaking news this week: The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores show that COVID-19 pandemic-related learning loss has reversed decades of incremental math and reading test score progress. While the education world digs into this record decrease in the test scores of fourth and eighth graders, there will be a lot of political rhetoric and forthcoming research about the impact of in-person learning compared to at home-learning. But not a single state posted an increase in its test scores, so there is work to be done to help students everywhere, and we’ll delve into some of that in future newsletters.

Relatedly, the U.S. Census Bureau recently released preliminary K-12 school spending data that show how COVID-19 challenges and federal pandemic relief funding impacted K-12 school systems in the 2020-2021 school year. 

Taken together, these two data sets provide critical insight into how the pandemic and policymakers’ decisions likely changed public education forever. 

The Census data from the Annual Survey of School System Finances currently includes data from 40 states and Washington, D.C., with 10 states yet to report their spending information, including Indiana, Louisiana, Tennessee, and Texas. It is likely those states’ figures will largely follow the finance trends already reported by a majority of states. 

Overall, the Census findings show state education revenues increased in 27 of 40 states between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. Despite temporary disruptions to some tax revenue streams due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most states increased state dollars dedicated to K-12 education. These funding increases follow the trend of the past 20 years, where nearly 90% of states increased state education spending between 2002 and 2020. 

Federal revenue streams for K-12 public schools saw the largest increase, growing more than 45% between the 2019 and 2021 fiscal years. And it is important to note that the preliminary 2020-2021 Census education data reflects only $20.7 billion of the nearly $200 billion in federal funds allocated to states during the pandemic. As of August 18, 2022, school districts had yet to spend $130 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds, despite the fast approaching 2024 deadline for using them.

Source: United States Census Bureau, 2021 Annual Survey of School System Finances (preliminary release)

The Census report shows that some education costs directly impacted by the pandemic decreased, such as pupil transportation, food services, and administration that weren’t needed when in-person learning was shut down. In the 40 reporting states and Washington, D.C., per-pupil transportation expenditures dropped by nearly 13% on average between the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. 

Yet during that time, other spending categories understandably increased as school systems navigated the pandemic’s challenges. For instance, pupil support spending increased in all states except Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, and South Carolina. As schools implemented COVID-19 safety precautions, spending on operation and maintenance increased in every state except New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Because states have yet to finalize their official reports to Census, some spending categories could contain irregularities. For example, New York and Massachusetts’ preliminary data appear to be underestimating spending in numerous categories.

We should expect the final 2020-2021 Census report to show significant overall increases in instruction and pupil support because many school districts hired staff and implemented new programs in an attempt to reverse student learning loss during the pandemic. Seeing which states had the highest increases in categories like instruction staff support and administration will provide insight into school districts’ priorities and hiring decisions during extended school closures.

But the just-released NAEP scores make one thing clear: billions of dollars, much of it not spent yet, in federal funding did little to make up for students’ lost time in the classroom during the worst of the pandemic. 

This data also reinforces the argument that states and school districts should invest their remaining ESSER funding in priorities like math and reading tutoring and programs that provide funds directly to families so they can enroll their students in educational services that can help them get back on track. 

From the States

School choice debates making an impact on gubernatorial elections nationwide

In Pennsylvania, school choice is playing a unique role in the gubernatorial race between the Republican Doug Mastriano and Democrat Josh Shapiro, who has bucked the typical Democratic Party platform by supporting “lifeline” scholarships for students in the state’s lowest-performing schools. While this program, which helps pay for private or public school tuition, is more modest than education choice proposals Mastriano would likely push if elected, it is estimated that lifeline scholarships would provide school choice access to nearly 200,000 Pennsylvania students. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently signaled his support of expanding school choice if reelected. Abbot signed a $6.5 billion K-12 education spending increase in 2019, but his recent support of choice has fueled Beto O’Rouke’s campaign claims that Abbott supports defunding public education in Texas. For years, Republican lawmakers representing Texas’ rural legislative districts have largely rejected school choice proposals. The Texas Tribune recently reported that O’Rouke is trying to capitalize on this fact by “running newspaper ads in at least 17 markets, mostly rural, that urge voters to ‘reject Greg Abbott’s radical plan to defund’ public schools.”

Similarly, in Oklahoma, the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister calls school choice programs a “rural school killer.” Hofmeister, a former Republican, switched her party affiliation last year to run against Gov. Kevin Stitt, in part due to Stitt’s embrace of school choice and funding students instead of systems. 

Following the passage of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake said she supports “100% backpack funding” for students, and would likely attempt to continue the school choice legacy of outgoing Gov. Doug Ducey if elected. Democrat Katie Hobbs, who supported a failed union-backed campaign to overturn the ESA bill, says she wants to increase accountability requirements for charter schools and has criticized state leaders for “kicking the can down the road” on public education spending. Arizona lawmakers sent an additional $1 billion to public schools in their last session. 

What to watch

More Analysis of the NAEP Drop in Math and Reading Scores 

More on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) national testing results: Eighth and fourth graders experienced massive declines in average NAEP math scores, dropping eight and five points, respectively. At the same time, both eighth and fourth-grade students’ average scores in reading declined by three points. “Normally, for a NAEP assessment … we’re talking about significant differences of two or three points. So an eight-point decline that we’re seeing in the math data is stark. It is troubling. It is significant,” Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, told reporters. In math, the lower NAEP scores reverse the gains of approximately 20 years, while in reading, NAEP scores are now at the same levels as they were 30 years ago, in 1992. 

Kentucky’s School Choice Program Before the State Supreme Court

The Kentucky Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this month about the state’s Education Opportunity Account Program, a tax-credit education savings account that opponents say sends taxpayer dollars to private schools in a way that violates the state constitution. The ESA program was vetoed by Gov. Andy Beshear in 2021 but became law when the legislature overrode the veto. The state Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue in the coming months. 

Recommended Reading 

Nation’s report card shows steep declines in student learning
Martin R. West at Education Next
“We see that the vocal efforts of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to reopen schools early were not enough to keep students from losing roughly the national average decline of eight points in eighth-grade math… But any efforts to claim credit for them will be complicated by the fact that California students lost only six points in eighth-grade math—far less than would be expected given the slow return to in-person instruction seen under Gov. Gavin Newsom—and also fared well on a relative basis in other grades and subject areas.”

Public education missed the data revolution. It’s time to catch up
Marguerite Roza and Chad Aldeman at The Hill
“Good luck getting real-time data on how many children are enrolled in public schools, are chronically absent, or are making academic progress as a result of federally funded relief efforts. We don’t have it on a national level. States don’t have it. Neither do most districts.”

Encouraging education entrepreneurship
Kerry McDonald at State Policy Network
“Entrepreneurs confront challenges in all sectors, but it became clear from these focus groups and interviews that education entrepreneurs often encounter more obstacles than others. The strict K–12 regulatory environment in most states can create significant barriers to entry and growth.”

The post Funding Education Opportunity: Historic NAEP score declines, Census data on pandemic school spending, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Funding Education Opportunity: How public school open enrollment impacts upward mobility, education issues on statewide ballots, and more https://reason.org/education-newsletter/how-public-school-open-enrollment-impacts-upward-mobility/ Thu, 29 Sep 2022 14:42:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=education-newsletter&p=58499 Plus: Arizona school choice news, the latest school staffing, enrollment and spending trends, and more.

The post Funding Education Opportunity: How public school open enrollment impacts upward mobility, education issues on statewide ballots, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Residential assignment has long constrained student opportunities because it intertwines schooling and housing. All too often, access to a better public education depends on a family’s ability to move to a more expensive neighborhood.

In fact, the median cost of housing in zip codes associated with highly ranked public schools was four times higher than the median cost of homes in zip codes associated with the lowest ranked public schools, according to a 2019 report by the Senate Joint Economic Committee.

When the price of admission to a public school is built into the cost of housing, mortgages function like fees to a private school. Accordingly, residential assignment’s de facto sorting mechanism—property wealth—often isolates students into socioeconomic enclaves. 

New research from Harvard University Economics Professor Raj Chetty explains why this segregation sets low-income students up for failure. His work, Social Capital Volumes I and II, shows that schools are important institutions where students form key social networks and explains how cross-class interaction can form “‘bridging’ social capital,” which is most closely connected to upward mobility. In fact, Chetty finds that students with more cross-class interactions, or economic connectedness, are more likely to rise out of poverty.

Chetty’s research identifies two equally important factors that affect good economic connectedness: exposure to higher-income individuals and friending bias. Exposure to higher-income individuals at school can translate into upward mobility because students have more opportunities to build relationships with people with high social economic status. 

Unfortunately, residential assignment is a major barrier to economic connectedness for many students because it limits their exposure. 

“About half of the social disconnection between low- and high-income Americans is due to differences in exposure. For example, high-income people attend high schools that are disproportionately attended by other high-income people,” Chetty observed.

Weakening the ties between housing and schooling through school choice, including K-12 public school open enrollment, could be a key way to provide students with greater exposure. 

Open enrollment lets students enroll in any public school with open seats regardless of where they live. Strong open enrollment policies operate as a form of public school choice and provide pathways for children to transfer to schools that are a better environmental fit, are safer, or offer AP courses and specialized curricula. For instance, Reason Foundation research showed that families in Texas and Florida use open enrollment to find better educational opportunities for their children.

Most importantly, however, Chetty’s work shows how open enrollment could give more students the opportunity to achieve the American dream

Overcoming residential assignment barriers is key to student-centered education. Government-imposed boundaries wrongly lock students into geographic monopolies, limiting their education options. Not only could these students access education options that are the right fit via robust open enrollment policies, but students could also unlock the social networks that are crucial to upward mobility.

From the States: Education initiatives on statewide ballots this November

In Massachusetts, voters may impose an additional 4% tax on incomes over $1 million. The new revenue would fund K-12, college, and university education, as well as public transportation spending. Massachusetts already spends more than $21,000 per pupil on K-12 education and has increased total education revenue by 26% in the last two decades, despite experiencing a 6% enrollment loss.  

California voters will have the chance to approve or deny an initiative that would earmark at least 1% of all state and local tax revenue from public schools exclusively to arts programs. Proposition 28’s opponents are wary of tying local school district leaders’ hands through “ballot-box” budgeting, especially as public school student enrollment declines. The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office proposal estimates Prop. 28 would cost $800,000-to-$1 billion annually. The proposal comes after California allocated an additional $9 billion to its public school system in 2022.

Illinois voters will choose whether or not to add workers’ collective bargaining rights to the state constitution via Proposition 1, which is supported by teachers’ unions, among others. Critics say, if the proposition is passed, public sector unions would be given a newly-created constitutional right that would allow them to negotiate on a potentially limitless list of subjects and potentially block all future laws and reforms that might impact them.

In Idaho, a ballot initiative to increase education spending by more than $300 million through new corporate and individual taxes, even if approved, will now be voided following this month’s emergency legislative session. Gov. Brad Little signed a bill with a sales tax-funded annual spending increase of $330 million for K-12 schools, which will effectively replace the ballot initiative. Pressure to reform Idaho’s funding system overall was a frequent subject of the emergency session’s debate. 

What to watch

School spending vs. student enrollment
Data from Burbio released this month tracks enrollment declines in districts across the country, from Los Angeles to Fairfax, VA. It shows how severe many school districts’ enrollment declines have been since the pandemic started. Yet, while enrollment numbers are declining, education spending continues to increase in most states. This latest data mirrors education spending and enrollment trends seen well before the pandemic. For example, New York increased inflation-adjusted public school spending by over $26 billion between 2002 and 2020 while losing 10% of its student population over that time. 

Arizona school choice opponents fail to prevent education savings accounts expansion
The Arizona citizen’s referendum led by Save Our Schools (SOS), appears to have failed to block the nation’s biggest expansion of education savings accounts (ESAs). Despite its initial claim of gathering 141,714 signatures last Friday, this week, SOS all but conceded that its collected signatures fell well short of the 118,823 needed to overturn the law. This reversal occurred after the Goldwater Institute released projections that SOS was likely to have submitted approximately 88,866 signatures. Arizona’s secretary of state is expected to release the final signature count in mid-October.   

Corey DeAngelis: Why the COVID-19 pandemic changed the face of education forever
In a new ReasonTV interview, Corey DeAngelis explains why “backpack funding” is here to stay, why Texas is terrible on school choice, and why even non-parents should care about education reform. 

Recommended Reading 

On a Per-Student Basis, School Staffing Levels Are Hitting All-Time Highs
Chad Aldeman at The74Million
“In the 2020-21 school year, staffing levels hit all-time highs, and the typical public school district employed 135 people for every 1,000 students it served.”

‘Flagrantly Illegal’: Law Firm Files Lawsuit To Stop Biden’s Student Loan Forgiveness
Robby Soave at Reason
“President Joe Biden’s plan to forgive hundreds of billions of dollars in student loan debt violates both federal law and the Constitution, according to a just-filed lawsuit from the Pacific Legal Foundation.”

The End of School Reform?
Chester Finn, Jr. and Frederick Hess in National Affairs
“It goes without saying that opportunities for agreement are difficult to spot right now, and such a coalition would have to pull against the centrifugal forces of polarization — a marked contrast to the previous era in which prominent politicians and advocates found centrism a source of political reward.”

The post Funding Education Opportunity: How public school open enrollment impacts upward mobility, education issues on statewide ballots, and more appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Better transparency can improve public school open enrollment in most states https://reason.org/commentary/better-transparency-can-improve-public-school-open-enrollment-in-most-states/ Tue, 06 Sep 2022 09:10:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=commentary&p=57320 Transparent open enrollment reporting is key to developing a level playing field for students.

The post Better transparency can improve public school open enrollment in most states appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Extended school closures and COVID-19 pandemic policies have left many families disenchanted with public K-12 education. For a multitude of reasons, including dissatisfaction, public school student enrollment declined by 1.2 million students nationwide between 2020 and 2022. 

K-12 public schools may be able to regain some families’ trust by showing they are open to all families—regardless of where they live through public school open enrollment. Open enrollment policies weaken attendance zone and school district boundaries, letting students enroll in schools other than their residentially-assigned school so long as seats are available in the chosen school. 

While approximately 43 states claim to have some sort of open enrollment program, most of these laws fall short of providing a good open enrollment policy that is accessible to all families. A key component of open enrollment laws that most states lack is mandatory school district participation. School districts should only be able to reject transfer applicants for limited reasons, such as not having the capacity to accommodate them. 

Without mandatory participation rules, protectionist school districts may opt out of open enrollment policies in order to protect their geographic monopolies. For instance, even though most of Ohio’s school districts participate in open enrollment, affluent suburban school districts often refuse to participate. Currently, only 11 states require mandatory participation in open enrollment.

Of these, only three states—Kansas, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin—have transparent open enrollment reporting by state education agencies (SEAs), which supervise the public elementary and secondary schools in the state. Every year, these three states require their SEAs to publicly report school district open enrollment practices including the number of transfer applicants, the number of transfer applications that were rejected, and the reasons for those rejections. 

Wisconsin’s SEA reports are some of the best in the nation. They provide a wealth of information about open enrollment including key data, such as the number of transfers to and from each school district and the reasons transfer applications were rejected.

Oklahoma’s new open enrollment law also includes requirements for transparent and comprehensive SEA reports. In addition to showing the number of transfer applicants by grade level, the number of transfer applicants rejected, and the reasons why, the state’s Office of Educational Quality and Accountability is supposed to conduct randomized audits of 10% of Oklahoma’s public school districts, including reviewing the school district’s records for accepting or rejecting transfer students.  

Transparent SEA reports ensure that school districts are all playing by the same rules and don’t reject transfer applicants for superficial or discriminatory reasons. For example, Columbia University’s Randall Reback’s research showed that even though Minnesota’s open enrollment law only allows school districts to reject transfer applicants when demand exceeds the number of available seats, some school districts rejected transfer applicants for other reasons. Reback wrote:

“Regardless of whether a district has historically high enrollments, it is much more likely to reject transfer applicants if its mean student test scores or household socio-economic characteristics are substantially greater than those of a neighboring district.”

To ensure school districts aren’t bending the rules, states should also bolster their open enrollment laws by requiring SEAs to publicly report this important data. This is an easy way for policymakers to make public education more transparent and accountable to families. 

Some states could improve their policies with little effort. Florida’s SEA, for instance, already collects important open enrollment data such as the number of transfers, the number of rejected transfer applications, and the reasons for the rejections. However, the state does not make this data available to the public. 

Similarly, Texas publicly reports the number of transfers but does not report the number of rejected applications or why applications were rejected. Updating the state’s annual open enrollment reports to include this data could vastly improve transparency.

Six other states—Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, and South Dakota—collect some data about open enrollment transfers. These states’ SEAs could easily expand their reports to include all pertinent data and make them publicly available on a yearly basis.

Transparent SEA reports are a simple but important way to improve open enrollment laws. The valuable data they contain helps ensure that school districts are held accountable for their open enrollment practices, letting students access all available education options.

Without transparent reports, protectionist school districts could discriminate against unwanted transfer applicants with impunity—even in states with good mandatory open enrollment laws. 

Transparent open enrollment reporting is key to developing a level playing field for students. As school districts strategize about how to attract and retain students from a shrinking student population, opening their doors to all students regardless of where they live is the best solution.

The post Better transparency can improve public school open enrollment in most states appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Frequently asked questions on public school open enrollment https://reason.org/faq/frequently-asked-questions-on-public-school-open-enrollment/ Thu, 25 Aug 2022 16:36:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=faq&p=56871 Public school open enrollment policies allow students to transfer to the public school of their choice.

The post Frequently asked questions on public school open enrollment appeared first on Reason Foundation.

What is open enrollment for public schools?

Open enrollment policies allow students to attend the public schools of their choice rather than the school they are residentially assigned to. Strong open enrollment policies empower families to transfer their students to a new school that may be outside of, or within, their assigned school districts.  

What is cross-district open enrollment?

Cross-district open enrollment policies allow students to transfer from schools in their residentially assigned school district into schools in another public school district. How cross district student transfers work

What is within-district open enrollment?

Within-district open enrollment allows students to transfer from one school in their residentially assigned school district to another school within that school district. How within district student transfers work

Is open enrollment a form of school choice?

Open enrollment is considered a form of school choice because the policy allows families to find an educational environment that works best for their students, regardless of where they live or their income. 

State policymakers could drastically expand the K-12 public education options that are available to families through open enrollment policies, which diminish the role of residentially assigned school districts and attendance zone boundaries by allowing students to transfer to any public school that has available seating.

How does open enrollment work for public schools? 

School district requirements for participating in open enrollment vary from state to state. Strong open enrollment policies require that public school districts: 

  • Allow within-district and cross-district open enrollment, only rejecting incoming students for limited reasons, such as insufficient capacity.
  • Clearly post their open enrollment policies and procedures on their public websites, including all application deadlines.
  • Publicly report the number of open seats that every school has so families know which schools have availability.
  • Do not charge transfer students tuition or fees.

These policies make it easier for families to use open enrollment and ensure that public schools are open to all students. 

In addition to the above requirements, policymakers should also ensure that state education agencies (SEAs) annually report key open enrollment data, including the number of transfer students, the number of transfer students accepted and rejected, and the reasons why any transfer applications were rejected in each school district. This transparency helps hold schools and districts accountable, ensuring that they don’t reject transfer applications for superficial reasons. It also allows state lawmakers to continually measure the success of the open enrollment program.

How do families know if a school district has open seats?

To access information on school capacity, families should look at school district websites.

States, such as Florida, Arizona, and Oklahoma, require each school district to post the number of seats that are open and available to transfer students in each school by grade level. Some states, like Delaware, provide an open enrollment portal that shows which school districts have available seats, are nearing capacity, or are operating at full capacity.

Unfortunately, most states do not currently require school districts to post their available capacity online, making it hard for families to know which school districts have open seats. Transparent open enrollment reporting is crucial to helping families find and understand their education options. 

Can a public school refuse to enroll a student?

Public schools should only be able to reject open enrollment transfer applicants for limited reasons, such as insufficient capacity.

For instance, Florida school districts, adhering to all federal desegregation requirements, can only refuse to enroll transfer applicants for limited reasons, such as an insufficient number of open seats at a school. This policy ensures that the number of students does not exceed available facilities and staff. 

However, other states allow school districts to discriminate against transfer applicants for a variety of reasons, regardless of the number of seats that are available at public schools. For example, New Hampshire lets school districts reject transfer applicants due to their previous academic performance.

At the same time, Arkansas does not allow the number of transfer applicants leaving a school district to exceed more than 3% of the assigned school district’s total enrollment of the previous year. These policies unnecessarily limit the number of transfer students. These discriminatory policies are overly deferential to school districts, letting them cherry-pick students or artificially protect their residentially assigned monopolies.

How does funding for open enrollment student transfers work?

Successful open enrollment policies ensure that education funding follows the child to their new school district. If school districts do not receive sufficient funding for transfer students, they’re less willing to participate in open enrollment programs. 

Wisconsin has one of the most successful open enrollment policies in the nation, in part because of the state’s transfer funding policy. A statewide per-pupil funding amount, which is updated each year by the legislature, follows each transfer student to his or her new school. At the same time, transfer students are still counted in their residentially assigned school districts, allowing them to still collect some education funds for each transfer student. This scenario creates a win-win situation for both the home and receiving school districts.

Research from California’s public schools also shows it’s critical to get the financial incentives right in order for school districts to accept transfer students. Reason Foundation’s Aaron Smith reported

“Because California’s Basic Aid school districts have virtually no financial incentive to enroll new students from outside of their district boundaries, the state previously provided those that participated in the District of Choice program with 70% of each transfer student’s base amount. However, this inducement was slashed to 25% in the 2017-18 school year with predictable results. By the 2019-20 school year Basic Aid districts reduced transfer enrollments by 24% and several stopped participating in the program altogether.”

Are school districts required to transport transfer students?

Many states do not require school districts to transport students across district boundaries and roughly a quarter of states explicitly prohibit districts from doing so, which can be a significant barrier to accessing open enrollment for many, especially low-income students.

At the very least, states should not prohibit transporting transfer students across school district boundaries. If it so chooses, the receiving school district should be able to create new bus routes to transport transfer students. For instance, Florida school districts can provide transportation options to transfer students.

However, more states should consider innovative proposals, such as those in Colorado and Ohio, which encourage school sectors to work together to provide transportation. Policymakers should also consider Wisconsin’s policy, which reimburses low-income families using the state’s cross-district open enrollment option up to $1,218 annually for mileage expenses for school transportation.

Are public schools allowed to charge families tuition? 

A number of states allow public schools to charge transfer students tuition. While school districts may argue these funds are necessary to cover the costs of incoming students, charging tuition often creates a mammoth barrier for transfer students, especially those from low-income families.

For instance, Texas’ Lovejoy Independent School District can charge families of transfer students up to $14,000 in tuition. Instead of letting school districts charge tuition, states should allow education funds to follow students when they transfer, as Wisconsin does. Aligning financial incentives for both the assigned and receiving school districts is a key to developing a robust open enrollment program.

How does open enrollment impact school sports? 

Questions about student eligibility to participate in sports are dealt with on a state-by-state basis but some states with open enrollment laws, like Arizona and Oklahoma, allow the state’s third-party athletic association to make decisions on student eligibility.

As such, policymakers do not need to change eligibility requirements when adopting open enrollment reforms. 

However, if state policymakers desire, they can look to Florida’s policy on athletic eligibility for transfer students. In 2016, Florida passed a controlled open enrollment law that allows students to transfer to any school in the state with few exceptions and also mandates immediate eligibility for student-athletes. This means, unlike in Arizona or Oklahoma, families in Florida don’t have to make difficult tradeoffs between academics and athletics and can instead make student transfer decisions based solely on what’s best for their circumstances, which is impossible for distant bureaucrats to assess.

On Florida’s approach, my colleague Aaron Smith wrote:

“​​A common pushback against Florida’s approach is the claim that participating in athletics is a privilege for students and shouldn’t be prioritized over academics. It’s easy for some to sympathize with this critique, but then why aren’t similar restrictions applied to other privileges such as debate club, school bands, or performing arts? 

Extracurricular activities—sports or otherwise—help develop positive skills and traits that aren’t readily taught in classrooms, and forcing families to make arbitrary choices seems to be more about adult agendas than what’s best for kids. Granting student-athletes immediate eligibility can even help with socialization and adjusting to their new environment.”

Which states have open enrollment?

Most states have some form of open enrollment or student transfer policy, but only a handful make transfer opportunities accessible to all families

Florida: An Open Enrollment Policy Standard Bearer

Florida’s open enrollment law could serve as an ideal open enrollment model for other states. All school districts in the Sunshine State are required to participate in both cross-district and within-district open enrollment. The state’s public schools must regularly report the number of available seats by grade level and cannot charge transfer students’ families tuition or fees. While not required to do so, school districts can provide transfer students with transportation options.

During the 2018-19 school year, nearly 273,500 Florida students used open enrollment. More than two-thirds of the students using cross-district open enrollment transferred to schools “with graduation rates above the state mean and more than 90% of inter-district transfer students attend A- or B-rated school districts,” Reason Foundation’s Vittorio Nastasi reported.

Wisconsin’s Model Funding Solution to Open Enrollment

Wisconsin’s open enrollment law requires all school districts to participate in mandatory cross-district open enrollment so long as they have open seats. Beginning with a mere 2,464 students in the 1998-99 school year, Wisconsin’s cross-district open enrollment program grew to 70,428 students in the 2020-21 academic year.

Like Florida, Wisconsin school districts must post about their cross-district open enrollment option on their websites. In the case of oversubscription, students are selected through a randomized lottery with a waiting list for students who aren’t selected. The Badger State also has a voluntary within-district open enrollment option. 

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction provides detailed reports about available capacity in each school district including the number of transfer students and the reason transfer applications were rejected. School districts cannot charge tuition to transfer students. 

The crown jewel of Wisconsin’s open enrollment program is its cutting-edge student funding mechanism allowing education dollars to follow each transfer student regardless of where they go to school. 

What does the research say about open enrollment?

Research shows open enrollment is often used by families to access better school districts and can improve outcomes at sending school districts.

For example, students using Texas’ cross-district open enrollment during the 2018-19 school year were more likely to transfer to school districts ranked as “A” under the state’s district report card accountability system and less likely to transfer to school districts with lower rankings, such as “C,” “D” or “F.” 

California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office’s 2016 and 2021 reports showed that most students participating in the state’s District of Choice program transferred to school districts with higher test scores. According to Reason’s Vittorio Nastasi, more than 90% of students using Florida’s robust cross-district open enrollment option transferred to schools rated as “A” or “B” and “over two-thirds of transfer students crossing school district boundaries enrolled in districts with graduation rates above the state mean.”

These findings show that students typically use open enrollment to access better schools outside their residentially assigned option. 

A 2017 report on Ohio’s open enrollment program found achievement benefits and increased on-time graduation rates for transfer students who consistently used open enrollment, especially for black students and those in high-poverty urban areas. 

Better academic opportunities are not the only advantage of open enrollment policies. The 2016 report from California’s LAO indicated that school districts participating in the District of Choice program attracted students who were bullied at or did not fit in at their assigned school or who wanted a shorter school commute. 

At the same time, transfer students are not the only ones who benefit from open enrollment policies. A robust education marketplace can make school districts responsive to students and families. For example, both the 2016 and 2021 California LAO reports found that many students transferred schools because their assigned school lacked educational opportunities, such as advanced placement or international baccalaureate courses, school instructional models, or courses that emphasized career preparation for students interested in particular fields.

In response, some school districts “took steps to mitigate enrollment losses including gathering feedback from families and communities, evaluating programmatic offerings, and implementing reforms that led to fewer students transferring out,” Reason’s Aaron Smith pointed out. Similarly, a 2014 report found that Colorado’s transfer students tended to come from school districts with fewer AP offerings and higher dropout rates.

The post Frequently asked questions on public school open enrollment appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Increases in education spending have little correlation with actual student counts, data show https://reason.org/commentary/per-pupil-education-spending-has-little-correlation-with-actual-student-counts/ Thu, 18 Aug 2022 14:05:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=commentary&p=55935 Our analyses show almost universal spending increases across all states between 2002 and 2020 while at the same time, many states struggled to cope with shrinking K-12 student enrollments.

The post Increases in education spending have little correlation with actual student counts, data show appeared first on Reason Foundation.

The latest update to Reason Foundation’s K-12 Education Spending Spotlight provides a snapshot of K-12 education finance in all 50 states and the District of Columbia from 2002 to 2020. Based on the newest Census Bureau data available for the 2020 fiscal year, Reason’s Spending Spotlight shows how school spending and student enrollment changed before COVID-19 hit and the pandemic’s impact on both. 

Between 2002 and 2020, 49 out of 50 states increased their inflation-adjusted per-pupil education spending. North Carolina was the only state that did not increase its inflation-adjusted education spending during that period.

On average, between 2002 and 2020, nationwide K-12 education spending increased by more than $3,200 per pupil, or by 25%.

Reason’s K-12 Spending Spotlight illustrates that many states increased their education funding even as they were losing students. In fact, 22 states experienced declining student enrollments between 2002 and 2020. Yet, all of those states losing students, except Michigan, increased their overall K-12 education inflation-adjusted education spending during that time. 

For example, New York’s inflation-adjusted revenue increased by $26.4 billion between 2002 and 2020. This is a 51% increase in spending. Yet, New York’s overall K-12 student enrollment dropped by 11% during that time.

Similarly, Illinois’ K-12 enrollment has declined by more than 6% since 2002 but the state increased its per-pupil revenue by more than $7,100 in inflation-adjusted dollars between 2002 and 2020. In total, Illinois increased its inflation-adjusted education spending by $12 billion even though it was serving fewer students.

These examples illustrate a ubiquitous disconnect between education funding and student enrollment. For nearly 20 years, state policymakers have almost universally embraced policies that increased education funding regardless of how their state’s K-12 student population might be changing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated existing enrollment declines in K-12 education. For instance, New York and California–home to the two largest public school districts in the nation–witnessed statewide enrollments decline by 5.9% and 4.4% respectively between 2020 and 2022.  

Despite the drop in student enrollments during the pandemic, California policymakers recently approved increasing K-12 education funding by $9 billion for the 2023 school year–an increase of nearly 13%.

The enrollment declines in those states were not anomalous as the American Enterprise Institute’s Return to Learn Tracker pointed out, “Nineteen of 46 states declined by 3% or more and [only] five states saw net gains from 2020 and 2022.”

Families dissatisfied with their public school options during the pandemic chose alternative education options, such as homeschooling and private schools at record rates. In fact, the Associated Press reported that homeschooling participation increased by 63% during the 2020-21 school year, only dropping by 17% during the following academic year. At the same time, Catholic private schools’ enrollments–defying waning projections–increased by more than 62,000 students nationwide between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years.

The student enrollment losses experienced during the pandemic will only build upon the declines that nearly half of the states saw between 2002 and 2020. 

With federal stimulus dollars flowing freely until 2024, many school districts won’t feel the fiscal effects of lower enrollment rates for the next several years, especially since many states have implemented hold-harmless provisions in response to the pandemic.

In an Education Commission of the States’ brief, Eric Syverson and Chris Duncombe explained that “these policies typically allow districts to use their prior year, pre-pandemic enrollment or attendance numbers to receive the same amount of funding for the current year.”

Twenty-two states extended their temporary hold harmless provisions through at least the 2021-22 school year, ensuring that they would continue to receive the same per pupil funding as in 2020, despite changing K-12 enrollments. Illinois and three other states have committed to holding school districts harmless through the 2023-24 school year. 

To avoid flat-footed responses to an impending fiscal cliff, “school districts should get their fiscal houses in order now, while they have flexibility in their budgets,” Reason Foundation’s Aaron Garth Smith pointed out in The 74.

While COVID-19 exacerbated existing enrollment trends, the nearly 20-year decline in student enrollment means that policymakers have had more than enough time to read the tea leaves and prepare for funding changes.

This means that state policymakers must reverse course. Instead of allowing bureaucracy and special interest groups to drive K-12 education funding, policymakers should ensure that funding corresponds to actual students in classrooms. 

Reason Foundation’s K-12 Education Revenue Spending Spotlight is available here.

The post Increases in education spending have little correlation with actual student counts, data show appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Top-performing public schools are rejecting students even though they have open seats https://reason.org/commentary/top-performing-public-schools-are-rejecting-students-even-though-they-have-open-seats/ Thu, 04 Aug 2022 11:30:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=commentary&p=56501 Unfortunately, just because seats are available at top-notch public schools doesn’t mean new students can enroll there. In most states, where you live determines where you can go to school.

The post Top-performing public schools are rejecting students even though they have open seats appeared first on Reason Foundation.

During the pandemic, K-12 public schools experienced massive enrollment drops as families opted for private schoolslearning pods, or homeschooling. Despite regaining some students, 1.2 million seats remain empty in public schools nationwide.

In some cases, this means that top-performing school districts now have swathes of open seats. For instance, the New York Times reported last month that Orange County’s Capistrano Unified School District — an A-ranked school district in the state — has lost more than 2,800 students since 2020.

Enrollment decline isn’t unique to California. According to the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Return to Learn Tracker, Kansas City’s top-performing Olathe Public Schools District lost more than 800 students between 2020 and 2022. Similarly, in Illinois, the highly ranked Barrington Community School Unit #220 lost nearly 500 students since 2020.

Unfortunately, just because seats are available at top-notch public schools doesn’t mean new students can enroll there.

In most states, where you live determines where you can go to school. This method of residential assignment intertwines property wealth and schooling because high-ranking public schools are often located in more expensive neighborhoods.

Open enrollment, however, can break down the barriers that prevent families from accessing public schools other than their residentially assigned ones. This form of school choice allows families to enroll in any public school if there are open seats, thus weakening the connection between housing and schooling. Research from Texas and Florida shows that families in states with strong open-enrollment laws use the policy to find better educational opportunities for their children.

But a crucial component of a good open-enrollment policy is mandatory participation for all school districts. This stops protectionist school districts from opting out of the program, even when they have open seats.

Ohio’s voluntary open-enrollment policy is a perfect example of how suburban school districts often exploit this weakness by refusing to accept transfer students from the state’s metropolitan or rural school districts. Cleveland’s highly rated Lakewood City School District opts out of the state’s open enrollment. This means that students residentially assigned to the neighboring Cleveland Municipal School District — where only 32 percent of students scored at or above the state’s proficient reading level — cannot attend the better schools in the Lakewood City district, even though Lakewood City’s enrollment declined by nearly 470 students since 2020.

To make matters worse, Lakewood City School District’s boundaries reflect historic housing redlining. Although now illegal, the lingering effects of housing redlining will continue to affect the public-education options available to families in cities across the country, as long as school assignment is tied to housing.

Protectionist public-school districts are quick to oppose mandatory open enrollment since the policy would weaken their exclusive educational enclaves, where the price of admission is a pricey mortgage.

For instance, even though Olathe Public Schools District had more than 800 open seats, two Kansas superintendents of top-performing school districts, including Olathe, unsuccessfully opposed a robust open-enrollment proposal.

“While we can certainly empathize with parents in lower-performing districts . . . without intending to sound elitist, it is nonetheless true that housing costs in our districts often provide a check on resident student growth now,” they wrote.

Despite such opposition, this year, Kansas policy-makers established a robust open-enrollment law that allows families to transfer to schools outside their assigned school district, assuming there are open seats. Kansas’s law is exemplary. It requires school districts to publicly report the number of open seats by school and grade level on the district website. Moreover, the Kansas Department of Education will annually audit school capacity and non-resident enrollment to ensure that school districts are reporting accurately.

Kansas joins FloridaWisconsin, and Oklahoma as states with robust open-enrollment laws.

More states should follow Kansas’s lead and establish open-enrollment laws that expand school choice by allowing students to transfer to schools outside their residentially assigned school district. With public-school enrollments declining nationwide, many school districts can no longer claim to reject transfer students because they don’t have enough seats available.

A version of this commentary first ran in National Review.

The post Top-performing public schools are rejecting students even though they have open seats appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Stronger open enrollment laws would help California students https://reason.org/commentary/stronger-open-enrollment-laws-would-help-california-students/ Tue, 21 Jun 2022 04:00:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=commentary&p=55296 Open enrollment lets students enroll in any public school that has open seats, regardless of where they live.

The post Stronger open enrollment laws would help California students appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Despite steep enrollment declines in the state’s K-12 public schools, entrance into California’s top-performing public schools remains incredibly competitive due to restrictive district and attendance zone boundaries.

In the 1930s, the Home Owners Loan Corporation redlined neighborhoods in California, using residents’ characteristics, such as race, to vet homebuyers for federal aid housing loans, often labeling minority neighborhoods as “hazardous.” Although Congress outlawed housing redlining through laws passed in 1968, 1973, and 1977, many geographic school district and attendance zone boundaries still mirror racist neighborhood lines from the 1930s, limiting children’s education options today.

For example, Los Angeles’ Ivanhoe Elementary School’s attendance zone had an 86% reading proficiency rate and 75% math proficiency rate in 2018-19. The bordering elementary school, Atwater Avenue Elementary School, less than two miles away, had proficiency rates that were 49 percentage points lower for reading and 41 percentage points worse for math.

In his book, “A Fine Line,” author and financial analyst Tim DeRoche noted that Los Angeles residents might pay $100,000 or more in additional housing costs “just to gain access to specific coveted ‘public’ schools” because of the stark difference in performance of neighboring public schools.”

Education is a public service, yet, in Southern California and other areas of the state, high-quality public education is a scarce resource that wealthy families can purchase through their mortgages.

Policymakers, however, can start to remedy years of inequality in education through robust open enrollment policies that weaken the ties between housing and schooling. This policy lets students enroll in any public school that has open seats, regardless of where they live. While California has some piecemeal programs that do allow students to transfer schools, each program falls short of being a comprehensive policy that would do away with some of the lingering effects of government-sanctioned redlining.

The Golden State’s inter-district open enrollment options–the Interdistrict Permit System and District of Choice–allow students to attend schools outside their assigned school district. In the 2018-19 school year, 146,109 and 9,568 students participated in these programs respectively.

Unfortunately, school districts can opt out of participating in each program, allowing protectionist districts to exclude students from their schools—which they often do. For example, Fordham Institute’s Deven Carlson found that most of the affluent school districts in Ohio opted out of that state’s open enrollment program.

California policymakers should scrap the state’s labyrinthine open enrollment policies and adopt a single program that requires all school districts to allow both inter-district and intra-district open enrollment. Schools should only be able to reject applications because they’re full. To ensure that district admissions are fair, policymakers should also incorporate transparency requirements, such as requiring school districts to report to the California Department of Education the number of transfer applications the districts received and the reasons why they rejected any applications.

At the same time, policymakers should make sure schools are compensated for taking on new students. The Legislative Analyst’s Office found the 2017 reauthorization of the “District of Choice” program “significantly reduced funding for students transferring to basic aid districts (districts with high levels of local property tax revenue). We found that this reduction has led these districts to accept fewer transfer students. In addition, the students transferring to these districts are more likely to be disadvantaged than other transfer students. We recommend setting the funding rate closer to pre-2017 levels and providing a higher rate for low-income students and English learners.”

If open enrollment policies are going to succeed in giving families and students more education options, California’s school districts can’t be financially shortchanged for accepting transfer students, especially disadvantaged students. California policymakers should streamline and expand the state’s open enrollment policy to eliminate the archaic barriers that are stopping children from attending better schools.

A version of this column first appeared in the Orange Country Register.

The post Stronger open enrollment laws would help California students appeared first on Reason Foundation.

How President Biden’s plan for student loan forgiveness will make student debt worse https://reason.org/commentary/how-president-bidens-plan-for-student-loan-forgiveness-will-make-student-debt-worse/ Thu, 02 Jun 2022 14:00:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=commentary&p=54747 The president's plan to forgive $10,000 in debt per borrower - no matter their income level - has serious consequences.

The post How President Biden’s plan for student loan forgiveness will make student debt worse appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Many of the 43.3 million Americans with federal student loan debt totaling $1.61 trillion have anxiously anticipated President Joe Biden’s decision about student loan forgiveness. 

Last week, The Washington Post reported that the president’s plan, which sources say is nearing a formal announcement, will resemble his 2020 campaign promise to forgive $10,000 in federal student loans per borrower. The Committee for a Responsible Budget estimates this will cost taxpayers $230 billion.

While political firebrands such as Sen. Bernie Sanders have long supported substantially increasing federal higher education spending, including offering things like free college, President Biden’s proposal would represent a significant change in policy from previous presidential administrations, including Democrats.

President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign promises were modest by comparison. President Obama sought to expand Pell Grant access to low-income students and eliminate government subsidies to private student lenders. Even Obama’s 2014 executive order that sought to forgive some federal student loans only did so after 20 years and required borrowers to make regular payments via the Pay As You Earn Initiative.

By comparison, the Biden administration’s plan is a major departure from Obama’s more modest and measured approach to student debt. While it would certainly be popular with many of the people who have $10,000 of their student debt forgiven, public opinion is quite divided over how to handle college student debt.

A CNBC national poll conducted in January of 2022 found that 34% of respondents supported loan forgiveness for all student loans. Only 27% of respondents opposed student loan forgiveness entirely. However, 35% of respondents supported a middling approach, preferring loan forgiveness only for those “in need.” 

Supporters of student loan forgiveness for those in need may be pleased to hear that President Biden’s proposal is reportedly going to be means-tested, with individuals eligible for student loan forgiveness if they have an income of less than $150,000 ($300,000 for couples).

The Washington Post editorial board notes some of the problems with that cut-off:

These provisions, while welcome, would not stop the policy from becoming yet another taxpayer-funded subsidy for the upper middle class. The president’s means test would be almost useless, as some 97 percent of borrowers would still qualify for forgiveness. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan watchdog, estimates that such a plan would cost at least $230 billion, that 71 percent of the benefits would flow to those in the top half of the income scale — and that a quarter of the benefits would go to the top 20 percent. Even this does not express fully how regressive the policy would be, because many recent graduates from medical, law and business schools would qualify for forgiveness even though their lifetime income trajectories don’t justify it.

Similarly, The Wall Street Journal has reported that more than 40% of all student loan debt is held by individuals with advanced and lucrative degrees, such as doctors and lawyers. 

Only one-third of Americans have bachelor’s degrees. These individuals are statistically likely to earn more than the two-thirds of Americans who don’t have those credentials.

This means that many taxpayers nationwide, 85% of whom do not have student loan debt, would now be paying off the student debt of their college-educated peers who, in many cases, enjoy greater affluence because of their college degrees. 

Importantly, this loan forgiveness proposal does not actually address the major problem of rising college costs. Biden’s plan would likely only exacerbate what many have labeled the student debt crisis. 

The American Enterprise Institute’s Beth Akers points out that there will definitely be a change in borrower behavior after any sort of debt reduction. She wrote

“Economically rational people will respond to that dynamic by choosing more expensive programs of study and borrowing more than they would have otherwise. The result: a pool of outstanding student debt growing even more quickly than before.”

This means that Biden’s proposal would incentivize future students to invest in riskier loans under the hope or assumption that their loans could later be forgiven. Such a plan is a disaster in the making that, over the long-term, could significantly expand Americans’ already ballooning student loan debt.

In fact, even if President Biden does reduce student loan debt by $10,000 per borrower, the Committee for a Responsible Budget reported that the total student loan debt would return to its current level in just three years, assuming no change in borrower behavior.

Instead of debt reduction, policymakers should consider reforms that have a lasting effect and address the rising cost of college. Extricating the federal government from the student loan business altogether or placing strict annual and lifetime caps on federal student loans could help encourage universities to stop hiking their costs.

At the end of the day, any sort of student loan forgiveness is a bad policy since it does not hold individuals accountable for their financial decisions. In fact, it would represent a massive betrayal of public trust. Many people worked to pay off their student loans. Others chose less expensive colleges to avoid student debt. Some people didn’t go to college at all because they decided they couldn’t afford it.

It may be well-intentioned, but President Biden’s student loan forgiveness plan is a recipe for disaster. It would potentially encourage bad borrowing behavior going forward. It would disadvantage those who made significant sacrifices to avoid or minimize their student debt. And, perhaps worst of all, it would force American taxpayers who didn’t go to college to pay for student debt they chose to not accrue and from which they will not benefit.

The post How President Biden’s plan for student loan forgiveness will make student debt worse appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Its time to rethink the relationship between housing and K-12 education https://reason.org/commentary/its-time-to-rethink-the-relationship-between-housing-and-k-12-education/ Fri, 15 Apr 2022 04:30:00 +0000 https://reason.org/?post_type=commentary&p=53403 Kansas, Missouri and South Carolina are considering open enrollment policies that would allow families more education options.

The post Its time to rethink the relationship between housing and K-12 education appeared first on Reason Foundation.

Most of the nation’s 48.2 million public K-12 students are assigned to their schools based on geographic school districts or attendance zones, with few options for transferring to another public school district. This method of school assignment intertwines schooling with property wealth, limiting families’ education options according to where they can afford to live.

2019 Senate Joint Economic Committee report found that homes near highly rated schools were four times the cost of homes near poorly rated schools. This presents a real barrier for many families – and 56% of respondents in a 2019 Cato survey indicated that expensive housing costs prevented them from moving to better neighborhoods. The challenge has only deepened as housing prices skyrocketed during the pandemic, putting better housing and education options out of reach for many.

Open-enrollment policies, however, weaken the link between housing and schooling. These policies let families to enroll in any public school that has open seats.

There are two types of open enrollment. Interdistrict open enrollment allows families to attend schools outside of their assigned district; intradistrict open enrollment lets families enroll in schools inside their school district, but outside their attendance zone.

Following the lead of states like Florida and Wisconsin that have strong open-enrollment policies, an increasing number of policymakers across the country are supporting open enrollment.  

proposal currently before the South Carolina state senate aims to establish mandatory interdistrict open enrollment statewide. Under the legislation, school districts could reject transfer applicants only for certain reasons, such as lack of capacity or teachers (though transfer students cannot displace students who are already residentially assigned). School districts would also be required to adhere to all federal antidiscrimination requirements and must implement a lottery to determine admission when transfer applications exceed available seats.  

In Kansas, a proposal before the state senate’s education committee would require all school districts to participate in mandatory interdistrict open enrollment, so long as there are open seats. Just as with South Carolina’s proposal, transfer students could not displace residentially assigned students. Moreover, school districts would report the number of available seats to the Kansas Department of Education and post them on the district website. The proposal also prohibits charging transfer students tuition and includes a provision about providing transportation to non-resident students.

Finally, a Missouri proposal, already passed by the state house, would establish voluntary interdistrict open enrollment throughout the state. All students would be eligible to transfer to any participating school district that has seats available, and school districts would be required to post their open-enrollment policies and procedures on their websites.

To date, the South Carolina, Missouri, and Kansas open-enrollment proposals have received the approval of one state legislative chamber. If made into law, these measures would be a boon to families, greatly expanding their public education options.

Open enrollment is especially popular among families because it gives them access to schools with better academic records or more class offerings. Reason Foundation research indicates that students often use open enrollment to transfer to better schools. For instance, Texas students were more likely to transfer to school districts ranked as “A” and less likely to transfer to school districts with lower rankings, such as “C,” “D,” or “F.” 

At the same time, open enrollment can serve as a catalyst for competition between schools, strengthening the education marketplace. California’s open enrollment program, the District of Choice program, was implemented in 1993; reports from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office in 2016 and 2021 showed that school districts made efforts to improve when their assigned students transferred to other school districts. In some cases, districts that made improvements saw fewer students transferring to other districts.

Unlike private school choice, which affects only 1% of K-12 students, open enrollment could expand education options for approximately 90% of K-12 students, breaking public schools’ geographic monopoly through residential assignment. As policymakers consider student-centered education options, they should remember that open enrollment can be the rising tide that lifts all boats. 

A version of this column previously appeared in RealClear Education.

The post Its time to rethink the relationship between housing and K-12 education appeared first on Reason Foundation.