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March 14, 2006

Open enrollment popularity grows

One of Jamie and Kathy Malwitz's three children didn't fit in at Fond du Lac High School — known as having one of the largest enrollments in the state, about 2,400 students.

"We opted for school choice with Kaitlin. She's now a senior at Oakfield High School, plays varsity soccer and loves the atmosphere at a small school," Kathy said.

Through Wisconsin's open enrollment period — Feb. 6 to 24 this year — parents were able to choose which public school system in the state they wanted their children to attend.

Now in its ninth year, the open enrollment program continues to grow in popularity, from 2,464 student transfers the first year to more than 18,000 in 2005, said Joe Donovan, spokesperson for the state Department of Public Instruction.

"The number of applicants is pretty striking," he said.

So is the increasing number of students opting out of brick and mortar public schools and enrolling in one of 13 virtual schools in Wisconsin.

By Sharon Roznik, The Reporter, March 10, 2006,

Kris Diener, originally from Fond du Lac, is principal of iQ Academies, Wisconsin's largest virtual high school, offered through the Waukesha School District.

"We had over a thousand new applicants and several were from Fond du Lac," Diener said.

iQ has a current enrollment of 550 students, bringing in about $5,700 in state aid per student into the Waukesha School District. That's a total of more than $3 million.

Financial loss

A high-count student exodus in Waupun (61) raises concerns for Bill Zeininger, director of business services and human resources. Because that same per pupil state aid follows every student wherever they go to school, the financial loss can be great.

"A total of 107 students are going elsewhere, at $5,700 a student. It's a crippling blow to our school district and will be a further drain on us financially," he said.

North Fond du Lac School District Administrator Sue McFarlane said enrollment figures can appear artificially high for a variety of reasons.

"I'm guessing at least 20 to 30 of those students (out of 60 requesting transfers) moved into the North Fond du Lac School District but continued to attend schools in their old district. We also have 10 to 12 students who were being home-schooled and applied to one of the virtual schools," she said.

Diener confirmed the Waukesha virtual school attracts home-schoolers, performance athletes and students who travel the world because of their parents' profession, yet still want a diploma from Wisconsin.

"We are aware of the feelings some public school administrators have about virtual schools," Diener said. "I understand there is competition in public schools, and it isn't something they had to deal with before. I tell them we can be partners in educating children that cannot, for whatever reason, attend public school on a full-time basis."

Oakfield School District Administrator Joe Heinzelman said he's pleased with the district's growing popularity. With 28 new enrollees added to the number of transfer students already at the school, there are 59 potential open enrollment students coming in, a hefty sum for a school district with 563 students.

"It makes us feel great, and I think it shows that parents look for schools where a child can participate and get personal attention. Students aren't just a number here," he said.

Virtual school offerings

Fond du Lac has plans to jump on the bandwagon and offer its their own virtual school, on a limited basis, to students in 2006-07. Plans to expand virtual school course offerings are now being considered by a district committee under a charter school grant.

"Virtual school continues to be an option for parents," School Superintendent Greg Maass said. "It provides yet another opportunity for students beyond the traditional school setting."

Numbers in New Holstein indicate 35 students are leaving through open enrollment compared to four coming into the district. School Superintendent Joe Wieser said that of those students, 16 are in 4-year-old kindergarten and travel with their parents to schools near their place of employment.

Still he has concerns about overcrowding in the schools prompting parents to look elsewhere, and he hopes voters will approve a November referendum asking for a new middle school.

"We are so crowded, we are renting classrooms from the church across the street," he said.

As for open enrollment trends, Donovan said parents' reasons for choosing open enrollment are as varied as the number of transfer requests.

"Up until last year, there was a cap on the number of students that could leave a particular district," Donovan said. "Last year, it was 10 percent; prior to that, 3 percent. Now there are no caps, so more parents are opting to move their students around."

Kathy Malwitz, a retired school teacher, said she and her husband, Jamie, picked the kind of education that fit each of their children.

"Jamie home-schooled Kaitlin her sophomore year," she said. "Our older daughter, Kari, attended Fond du Lac High School but spent her senior year attending classes at Moraine Park Technical College through the youth options program. Our son, Adam, was a good, quiet student, and he did fine at Fond du Lac."

Posted by Ruth Robarts at March 14, 2006 9:13 AM
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