A program affecting state public school districts — revenue and other ways — escapes scrutiny and controversy of vouchers and related education plans.
Wisconsin’s open enrollment program, in effect since 1998, can be a boon or bust for a school district’s budgets.
Two large Fox City districts are a good example.
Appleton Area, with a net of 1,114 students gains about $6.4 million in aid funds. Kaukauna, with a net loss of 548 students loses about $2.9 million in aid.
Open enrollment serves basically the purpose of vouchers as it allows movement of students and funds — in this case state aids. The difference is the transfers are within the auspices of the state Department of Public Instruction and do not include private schools.
Vouchers and for-profit charter schools are virtual lightning rods in education circles as are federal education programs — No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and those championed by the administration in office at the moment.
In the 2013-14 school year, open enrollment involved 50,075 pupils in grades K-12 and state funds of $266.4 million followed them. Aid is determined on a per-student basis.
Open enrollment legislation does not include transportation aids for students involved.
The success of the 220 open enrollment program approved by the state Legislature in 1975 for Milwaukee Public School System, including suburbs, was that it included transportation funding. It was both a program to improve education and integration.
The Elementary, Secondary Education Act signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon Johnson had the greatest influence on the education system, especially establishing equal opportunity with new grants to districts serving low-income students, text and library books, and scholarships for low-income college students.
In 1989 the Wisconsin legislature passed the nation’s first modern school voucher program targeting students from low income households in the Milwaukee Public School district.
Wisconsin has four private school programs, three voucher programs and one tuition tax deduction. It also has a charter school law. It also enables public virtual schooling. Open enrollment allows both intra-district and inter-district public school choice.
Choice programs and date enacted are K-12 Private School tuition deduction, 2013; State Parental Choice, 2013; Racine Parental Private School Choice, 2011 and Milwaukee Parental Choice, 1990.
Gov. Walker’s budget proposes eliminating the long-standing 220 program, a move that could redirect $60 million in school funding and impact the Milwaukee area schools, and districts like Racine, Madison and Wausau — all with large low income and minority enrollments.
The Chapter 220 program, named after the 1975 law that created it, is called “integration aid” in state budget rhetoric. Millions of dollars of integration aid is used in affected districts to bus students within the districts to achieve better racial balance. For this year integration aid is estimated at $60 million.
School districts in the Tribune-Gazette and Press Star area all had fewer transfers in than out in 2013-14 according to the DPI. New London lost a net 61 enrollment and $336,803 in aid and Clintonville 30 students and $113,491.
Other totals and aid loss were Hortonville, 33 and $239,857; Manawa, 54 and $314,345; Marion, 44 and $254,068; Shiocton, 5 and $17,256, and Tigerton, 16 and $85,818.
Most school districts are seeing enrollments decrease. Open enrollment exacerbates that, not only financially, but poses issues of planning curriculum, staffing and associated costs because of unknown long-term enrollments, once based on the annual school census.
Open enrollment does not affect the state budget as aid is simply transferred district-to-district. It can affect a school district’s tax levy because state legislature imposed revenue limits for the 1993-94 school year.
In 1996-97 the state legislature committed to funding two-thirds of local and state education costs. That level of commitment has changed several times budget-to-budget — including the 2015-17 biennial budget being debated in the legislature.