Notes on Open Enrollment

Matthew Ladner:

In the process, Arizona districts became choice operators themselves. Scottsdale Unified, for example, currently has about a fifth of their students coming into the district through open enrollment. The key to spurring open enrollment wasn’t laws. It was incentives. The bureaucracies needed the money, and as some suburban districts got more active in open enrollment, it created competitive pressure on other districts to do the same.

A majority of Phoenix area students do not attend their zip-code-assigned school. District open enrollment students outnumber charter students almost two to one, despite Arizona having the largest charter school enrollment. Perhaps not coincidentally, during all of this, data collected by Stanford University sociologist Sean F. Reardon showed that Arizona students ranked firstin academic gains between 2008 and 2018. They learned more per year of schooling during this period than any other state and had strong growth across multiple subgroups.

So what does this have to do with your state? Events seem to be conspiring to crack open suburban districts for open enrollment broadly. First, there was a national baby bust going on before Covid-19. Worst still, a survey by the Guttmacher Institute found that one-third of American women polled in late April and early May wanted to delay childbearing or have fewer children because of the pandemic. This will pinch enrollment.

Second, the pandemic has seen a gigantic increase in homeschool enrollment and the creation of an entirely new micro-school sector. Tyton Partners created a panel study of American families to estimate national enrollment trends. Figure 1 below presents its estimates for fall 2021.