Some area families choose the public school open enrollment option not because they want to send their children to a neighboring school district but because they want to send them to a virtual school.
Under Wisconsin’s public school open enrollment program, parents can apply for their children to attend school districts other than the district in which they live.
The open enrollment application period for the 2011-12 school year began on Feb. 7 and closes at 4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25.
Under open enrollment, parents can also apply to virtual charter schools.
Statistics from three area school districts show that locally, some parents are choosing this alternative for their children.
In the Waupaca School District, 17 students, which is 31 percent of the 55 students, open enrolled out of the school district to virtual charter schools this school year.
A virtual charter school is not home schooling. Students who attend virtual charter schools are public school students, who participate online from their homes.
David Poeschl, district administrator of the Waupaca School District, said, “While having any students open enroll out concerns the School District of Waupaca, we also know many of those students and families who have chosen the virtual school route (17 of the 55 open enrolled out to virtual schools this year) were originally home-schooled students. They are required to first enroll in our school district in order to be eligible to open enroll out to a virtual school. In other words, those students were already choosing an alternative education delivery method so they are not considered a loss because of open enrollment.”
The percentage of students who have open enrolled out of Waupaca’s school district and into virtual charter schools has been about the same the past several years.
In the 2009-10 school year, when 58 open enrolled out, 17 students or 30 percent enrolled out to go to a virtual charter school. A total of 15 students open enrolled out to virtual charter schools in the 2008-09 school year. That was 28 percent of the 54 students who open enrolled out that school year.
In that same school year, there were 55 students who open enrolled into the school district. Those figures were 71 in the 2009-10 school year and 84 in the current school year.
Poeschl said, “The School District of Waupaca recognizes open enrollment is a viable option for students and families for a number of reasons. A school district can control some of those factors by offering superior curricular and extracurricular programs and opportunities, but is unable to control other factors, such as the work location of the parent(s) and/or their preferred child care options. Another uncontrollable factor is the location of someone’s residence. Some families simply live closer to neighboring district schools than Waupaca schools.”
Scott Bleck, district administrator of the Weyauwega-Fremont (W-F) School District, agrees.
Allowing parents to open enroll their children in or out of a school district has changed the dynamics of school choice, he said.
For some families, academic programs and extracurricular offerings are driving factors used by parents, he said.
However, Bleck said that for others, the decisions are more personal.
“Maybe a family works in Waupaca but lives in (the) Weyauwega (School District), but is one mile from the district boundary. It is a convenience factor for parents,guardians,” he said.
This school year, there are 34 students open enrolled into the W-F School District and 58 open enrolled out of the district. Of the 58 who open enrolled out, nine students open enrolled out to virtual charter schools, which is 15.5 percent of the 58 students.
In the 2009-10 school year, 16 percent, eight out of the 49 students, enrolled out to virtual charter schools. In that same school year, 33 students open enrolled into the W-F School District.
There were 32 students open enrolled into the district in the 2008-09 school year, with 41 students open enrolled out of the district that school year. Twelve percent, 5 of the 41, open enrolled out to virtual charter schools.
State law limits the number of students that can attend virtual charter schools under open enrollment. Students may be placed on a waiting list.
Because students wanting to open enroll into virtual charter schools do so during the open enrollment window, there are a number of such schools advertising right now, including on the television.
“I think we should use that same resource to make people aware,” Bleck said of the idea of advertising.
As a result, he recently made a trip to Waupaca to tape a free, 30-second public service announcement at WDUX to let listeners know that the open enrollment window is currently open, while also using it as an opportunity to promote the W-F School District as a potential opportunity.
He also sees it as a way to remind those contemplating open enrollment, whether to the W-F District or into other districts, that now is the time to apply.
Parents may apply for open enrollment online at https://www2.dpi.state.wi.us/OpenEnrollApp. Paper applications may be obtained from any school district and must be delivered – hand-delivery is recommended – to the nonresident school district during the application period. Applications may be submitted to up to three nonresident school districts.
Poeschl said the Waupaca School District does not actively promote its schools to students in other districts.
“We believe our reputation for state-of-the-art facilities, award-winning staff, variety of curricular and extracurricular programs, and proficient to advanced outcomes is well-understood, as evidenced by the number of students currently choosing to attend our schools through open enrollment,” he said.
Joe Price, district administrator in the Iola-Scandinavia School District, said the I-S School District gets the word out about the open enrollment program through an annual article that appears in the district’s “Orange & Black.”
This school year, 40 students open enrolled out of the I-S School District, and 40 open enrolled into the district.
Of the 40 who open enrolled out, 10 to 25 percent open enrolled out to go to a virtual charter school.
Ten of the 37 students who open enrolled out of the I-S District in the 2009-10 school year did so to attend a virtual charter school. That was 27 percent. In that same school year, 37 students open enrolled into the district.
In the 2008-09 school year, 32 students open enrolled into the district, while 24 open enrolled out of the district. Six of those 24 students open enrolled to a virtual charter school, which was 25 percent.
Price believes options in virtual education will continue to grow.
“One of the initiatives that Iola-Scandinavia, Waupaca and Weyauwega-Fremont are exploring is providing opportunities for ‘blended learning’ for our students,” he said, “where parts of the course would be face to face and some would be online with a course management system like Blackboard or Moodle.”