Commentary on Expanding Wisconsin Open Enrollment


Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony in support of Senate Bill 41. The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) believes that every student in Wisconsin deserves access to a high-quality education and this bill advances that principle by removing barriers in the Open Enrollment and Wisconsin Parental Choice Programs.

Senate Bill 41 expands access to both the Open Enrollment and Wisconsin Parental Choice Programs by removing the zip code barrier, which locks students into limited educational options based on their address.

The Open Enrollment Program is the state’s largest school choice program with over 65,000 students last year choosing to attend a public school outside of their residential district. Our research1 found that demand and utilization of this program have grown over the past 20 years. In fact, overall participation increases each year 3-6% (or approx. 2,000-4,000 students). However, over 9,000 applications (24%) were denied in the 2019-2020 school year by districts and the overwhelming reason for denial was space.
Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted families’ interest and need for additional educational options. Without a doubt, more families are looking for the best educational options for their students outside of their assigned public schools. The program must be amended to respond to the increased demand. But the Open Enrollment Program limits applications to only three non-residential districts per year, which restricts families’ options even further. SB 41 expands options for families by removing the three application limit for the 2021-2022 school year so families can find the school that best meets the educational needs of their child.

The Open Enrollment Program also allows students to apply outside of the traditional enrollment window by submitting an “alternative application” under certain circumstances, including “best interest for the child.” Just last year, 14,000 of the 15,000 alternative applications were submitted for that reason. SB 41 prohibits a child’s resident school district from denying a student transfer to a nonresidential district if both the parents and nonresidential district agree it’s in the best interest of the child. This will help keep families seeking alternative education options from being denied access to a nonresidential public school.