Districts weighing costs, benefits of Open Enrollment

Lisa Sink:

The state’s open enrollment program has helped many Milwaukee-area school districts shore up their budgets, add diversity and keep neighborhood schools open amid declining residential enrollment. Ten years after the program’s creation, the number of students using it to attend the public school district of their choice – if that district has space – has surged from 2,464 to more than 23,000.
But at least two area districts are asking if there is a tipping point at which districts can accept too many nonresident students. When does it hurt a district financially to fill its schools with open enrollment students? And what is the full impact – good and bad – of the program on district budgets, buildings and programs?
The Wauwatosa School District commissioned what it believes is the area’s first financial model trying to pin down when, if ever, it makes more sense to close schools than increase the percentage of nonresident students to fill classrooms. And now Elmbrook School Board members are pushing for a similar study, as a divided board voted recently to cut nearly in half the number of new open enrollment seats that will be allowed next fall.