School leaders sound alarm on open enrollment

Posted May 1, 2014

State Sen. Fletcher Hartsell Jr., R-District 36 (Cabarrus, Union)

— Local school leaders in Wake County and elsewhere say a draft proposal to open school enrollment - even across district lines - would create chaos and tax inequities.

The draft proposal, scheduled to be heard Monday by the Joint Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, won subcommittee approval earlier this week. It's based on a Colorado school district that's often held up as an example by advocates of school choice. 

The bill, authored by Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, would allow all students to enroll in the school of their choice, either in their home districts or in other districts, beginning in the 2015-16 school year.  

State and local per-pupil funding would follow the student to his or her choice of school, even across district lines. NC Association of School Administrators director Katherine Joyce said her members have "reservations" about that.

"Counties fund education at different levels, so the likelihood of funding disparity increases," Joyce said.  "A county receiving students from a neighboring county district with a lower level of local education funding will feel that financial impact per student." 

Wake School Board chairwoman Christine Kushner said open enrollment would make it difficult "to give stability to the families that live in Wake County, to give stability to the taxpayers in the community that are building the schools."

The proposal doesn't address the costs of school construction. Wake County last year passed an $810 million bond to pay for new schools. Hartsell's bill would allow students from other counties to fill the seats while Wake taxpayers foot the bill.

The draft would allow districts to turn down new students if seats aren't available, but Kushner says that doesn't cover new schools. 

"How do you plan for growth?" Kushner asked. "When we open a new school, it's very difficult to open at 100% full." 

Wake County Schools tried school choice briefly in 2012. The short-lived experiment resulted in a chaotic enrollment process and busing problems that lasted for weeks. Kushner said it added 10,000 more miles a day to the district's bus routes. 

"We ended up spending more than $2 million on buses in that year alone," she said. "So I think there's a lot to be learned from choice plans before we embark on anything that resembles that sort of plan statewide."

Hartsell's bill recommends that districts provide district-wide busing, but would not require it. Students who enroll in a different district would have to provide their own transportation.

That's a problem, too, said NCASA's Joyce. 

"The proposed legislation ensures that our working families and less-privileged students will be unable to take advantage of school choice because it neglects the issue of transportation," she said. 'Families without the means to transport their children are left with limited options, which will result in a less diverse school population."

Joyce said school districts already have the authority to allow open enrollment if it's the best choice for them. "How school assignment is handled at the district level should not be mandated by the State, but should remain under the purview of the community’s locally elected school board," she added.

Hartsell did not respond to a request for comment on his proposal.   

The full Program Evaluation Oversight committee will take up the draft Monday as part of its proposed recommended legislation. If it's approved, lawmakers could take up the bill in the session that begins later this month. 


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  • Douglass Davis May 5, 2014
    user avatar

    if you could do this in an equitable way, I would be for it.

  • funnything May 3, 2014

    another NC embarrassment from the GOP.

    sad thing is, i'm getting used to it.

  • Ashley Moore May 3, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Low-performance problem addressed. Thank you.

  • sisu May 2, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Yeah. Actually, I'm well versed on the subject and we are much in agreement. I usually like to address the specific issues in each article is all.

  • Terry Watts May 2, 2014
    user avatar

    If you thought the Durham City/County merger was a disaster... If you fought against (and still fight) the Roanoke Rapids/Halifax merger... Guess what this does??? Eliminates the "merger debate" by eliminating Districts...

  • Terry Watts May 2, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    I think OakCity's statement is more of a jab at the GOP leaders that formerly touted the Neighborhood plan (as opposed to the Diversity Busing plan). You do have to admit, it is ironic that the some in the GOP now tout a plan that moves even further away from neighborhood schools, ie now you can choose to send your kid out of your neighborhood, even out of your city or county.

    I bet there are folks in the Roanoke Rapids district aren't too happy about this, knowing that all the Halifax County kids they've been trying to keep out will now come flooding in... It essentially merges the County and the Town Districts into one... So much for fighting the merger Roanoke Rapids!

  • Jack Jones May 2, 2014
    user avatar

    This free-for-all plan just doesn't pass the smell test. Follow the money, and the trail leads to ALEC.

  • Greg Boop May 2, 2014
    user avatar

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    Actually over 95% of the school systems in the U.S. use neighborhood based assignment; it has proven to be the most successful and stable assignment method. It is not really a question of right vs. left.

  • Brent Evans May 2, 2014
    user avatar

    Try it. NC schools can't get any worse

  • Dukefan1 May 2, 2014

    Can the GA just leave EDUCATION alone? Haven't they already done enough damage?