JEFFERSON CITY - Members of the Joint Committee on Education met Tuesday to hear public testimonies about open enrollment.
Open enrollment allows students to attend schools outside the district in which they reside. Witnesses and committee members said reasons may vary from academics, convenience or extracurricular activities.
Witness Larry Davis testified with 30 years experience as a school superintendent. As a superintendent in North Dakota, Davis told the committee there had been problems with open enrollment. He cited basketball, or athletics in general, as one of the primary reasons parents chose to move their students to other school districts.
Davis said in North Dakota, state funding followed students. However, in the instance of special education, the financial responsibility remained with the home school. This, Davis said, "became a hardship."
"As you take students out of a school, you decrease the amount of state aid going to that school. But then you penalize them for paying for the special education of the students that leave which tend to be high cost students. A double whammy on schools," Davis said.
Davis also said taxpayers would be left to pay for students not in their district. He said taxpayers in districts students were leaving would be left paying taxes for schools their children weren't even attending. On the flip side, taxpayers in districts experiencing an influx of students would be responsible for levying funds for students not residing in that school district.
Steve Cookson, superintendent of Ripley R-2 schools said controlled open enrollment may be beneficial to his district.
Cookson gave the hypothetical example of a first grade classroom. If there were 26 students in the class, it would be a relatively large class, he said. However, dividing the students into two classes of 13 isn't always feasible or reasonable. "If I were allowed to take a few other students that wanted to opt into our district, I could then create two classrooms of 17 or so," Cookson said.
Lois Wankum is a mother of two who also said open enrollment would be beneficial. For her, it's a matter of convenience.
A few years ago her family moved to a farm one mile away from their previous residence. However, it was in a completely different school district. Wankum said it was a financial burden to send them to the new district. "It was hard to put the child on the bus for an hour and a half everyday," she said. Their old school was only seven miles away.
Penny Rector, a representative from the Missouri Council of School Administrators, also spoke. She said there is no real benefit to students who transfer schools. "We find little or no evidence to show significant improvement in student performance by creating open enrollment. And so, we question whether or not there is a need for open enrollment policies."
Rector also said open enrollment policies could lead to other problems like segregation.
The hearing was designated for informational purposes only. The deliberation will continue when the legislature returns to session in the new year.