Every year, parents in Wisconsin can choose the best public school for their children, regardless of their zip code, through the state’s Open Enrollment program.
In previous years, families only had three weeks to apply to the right school for them.
This year, parents have three months to apply to send their children to a school outside their home school district thanks to legislation I authored last session.
The 2013 public school open enrollment period in Wisconsin runs from Feb. 4 through April 30.
Parents will be informed by June 7 if their children have been accepted and may appeal a denial to the state Department of Public Instruction.
Parents must notify the non-resident district by June 28th if their child will be attending their school, or they may lose their spot.
For many parents, the open enrollment program is the only tuition-free way to send their children to another district.
Parents may choose to do this for a variety of reasons, such as curricular offerings, athletics or child care and transportation considerations.
Students are accepted at a non-resident district if there is space available in that district.
If there are more applicants than available space, priority is given to children with siblings already in the district with the remainder of spots distributed randomly.
Students can be denied admittance to another district if they were expelled from their home district, have other behavior problems or if the non-resident district does not offer or have space available in a needed special education program.
The program began in the 1998-99 school year with 2464 students participating.
Preliminary data from the 2012-13 school year shows that 41,562 children used the program last year.
For each open-enrollment student, a specific amount of money follows the student from their home district school to the non-resident district.
A 2002 audit of the program found that it had a limited fiscal impact on school districts with most districts experiencing a net gain or loss of less than $75,000.
There are some important facts to remember during the open enrollment period.
First, transportation to the non-resident district is generally the responsibility of the parent, but applicants should check with both the non-resident district and their own district to see if transportation is available.
Also, some transportation costs can be reimbursed for children who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches.
Second, the application time-period is firm.
Neither early nor late applications will be accepted.
Applications that are post-marked on April 30 will not be accepted.
If parents are unable to submit an application online, the DPI strongly encourages them to hand-deliver paper applications to the non-resident district office.
Third, applications must be filled out completely and accurately or they may be denied.
Fourth, students apply to a district and may request enrollment in a specific school or program but enrollment in a particular program is not guaranteed.
Finally, most returning students do not have to re-apply for open enrollment, except if the student will be entering middle school, junior high or high school.
If this is the case, parents should call the non-resident school district to see if they need to reapply.
Parents who are interested in using the open-enrollment program for 4-year-old kindergarten should be aware that it is only available if the resident district also offers 4-year-old kindergarten.
In other words, parents cannot use the open enrollment program to find a 4-K program for their children if their own district does not offer one.
In addition, state law allows students to open enroll in one particular course, rather than switch school districts.
This is a separate application process which occurs six weeks before the course begins.
Open enrollment forms are available from any public school district office, the Department of Public Instruction or on-line at http://dpi.wi.gov/sms/psctoc.html.
Paper applications can also be downloaded from this website.
Parents can access a directory of public school districts on the DPI website at www.dpi.wi.gov/schlsrch3.aspx.
Additional questions can be directed to DPI’s open enrollment team at 888-245-2732 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.