Charter school classroom

Students participate in school work in a classroom setting.

(The Center Square) – Some nearby states are surpassing Iowa in public school open-enrollment policies, according to a study released last week by the Reason Foundation.

The study – “Public schools without boundaries: Ranking every state’s K-12 open enrollment policies” – shows Iowa fails in four of the five best practices for open enrollment.

Reason supports mandatory cross-district and within-district open enrollment. To meet Reason’s goal for these policies, school districts should only reject transfer student requests for limited reasons, like school capacity, and the policies, including applicable deadlines and application procedures, must be posted online on districts’ websites. The public policy research organization seeks transparent reporting by the State Education Agency; transparent school capacity reporting; and free access to all public schools. To meet Reason’s criteria, the SEA must annually collect and publicly report open enrollment data by school district, like transfer students accepted and applications rejected and reasons for rejections. To meet Reason’s Transparent School Capacity Reporting practice, districts must annually, publicly report seating capacity by school and grade level.

Oklahoma and Kansas both require mandatory cross-district open enrollment, transparent SEA reporting, capacity reporting and no tuition. Wisconsin requires cross-district open enrollment and transparent SEA reporting. Nebraska requires capacity reporting and no tuition.

Iowa requires cross-district open enrollment. It’s one of nine states that do so. Each Iowa school district must participate in mandatory cross-district open enrollment; they have to accept transfer students unless they can’t accommodate them.

“During student selection, districts can prioritize transfer applicants who would facilitate a court-ordered desegregation plan and those who recently moved outside the district,” the report said. “However, the Hawkeye State does not have any within-district open enrollment options. While the SEA collects data on the number of transfer students, it doesn’t collect data regarding the reasons transfer student applications were rejected. Moreover, districts aren’t required to post their available capacity on their websites. There is no provision against charging tuition to transfer students.”

Instead, Iowa could require districts to participate in mandatory within-district open enrollment, publish available capacity on their websites, and publish and collect data about the number of transfer students and why transfer applications get rejected, the report said.

State policymakers might thwart school districts that list their schools as always at full capacity even if seats are available by randomly or regularly audit districts’ capacity, the report said.

SEAs’ publication of enrollment data would help ensure districts solely reject transfer students for valid reasons, making it harder to discriminate against students the districts deem “undesirable,” the report said.

“In some cases, districts don’t always make decisions based on what’s best for kids when there is no state accountability,” the report said.

In Nebraska, school districts must post their available capacity online, though they don’t need to post open enrollment policies online. Nebraska school districts can’t charge transfer students the cost of tuition. Districts must prioritize the siblings of transfer students, students previously enrolled through open enrollment and students that contribute to the school’s economic diversity at the given school building, based on the student’s qualification for the Free or Reduced Priced Lunch in comparison with the school’s other students.

Like nearly half of states, Minnesota allows children free access to all public schools.

Missouri, South Dakota and Illinois don’t have any of the five recommended policies. Five states – Florida, Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah, and Arizona – scored four of five; no state was five of five.