The Florida Legislature is considering expanding open enrollment for public schools and giving students more freedom to cross district boundaries.
What could change if parents are more able to move their children to schools outside their assigned zones? We can draw some insight from Arizona, which has had a statewide open enrollment policy for nearly two decades.
In a nutshell, public schools in the Grand Canyon State have taken more steps to attract students and please parents, by expanding special programs and marketing their schools.
“Open enrollment has really transformed public education in Arizona,” said Kristine Harrington, a spokeswoman for Scottsdale Unified School District in Arizona. The district, she said, has responded to parent demands by creating more International Baccalaureate and magnet school programs, including schools that focus on science and robotics.
Schools near the borders of other districts almost always have long waiting lists, Harrington said. Some of the district’s high schools enroll as many as one third of the students from out-of-district addresses.
Florida’s school districts have embraced IB and magnet programs. In recent years, they’ve expanded them, and considered broader open enrollment policies, sometimes while speaking in explicit terms about competing with a growing charter school sector.
In Arizona, the greater freedom of movement among schools may have helped accelerate a similar trend.
“Open enrollment has been very, very popular,” David Garcia told the Arizona Republic. Garcia, an education professor at Arizona State University, said more students use open enrollment to transfer to other public schools than enroll in charter schools. In a state with one of the highest percentages of charter schools in the country, that says something.