Open Enrollment Might Just Be Inevitable

Jennifer Wagner:

EdChoice Fellow and longtime school choice advocate Matt Ladner has a solid new blog post over at the Fordham Institute about the future of open enrollment and the changing demographics of our nation, specifically lower birth rates and longer life expectancies.

Using his home state of Arizona as “the demographic canary in America’s coal mine,” Ladner makes a compelling case that three main factors — the pre-pandemic baby bust; an increase in homeschooling and microschooling; and new and improved school choice policies — are driving toward a potentially unpleasant conclusion for those folks who’ve high-tailed it to the suburbs to access high-quality public schools:

The upshot of this is that many suburban districts are going to find themselves short of students, which means that many may lower the drawbridge to allow in open enrollment transfers to avoid closure. When this happened in Arizona, the choice knob got turned to “11.” Almost all Arizona districts participate in open enrollment now, even the fancy suburban ones.

Though it’s not a policy we focus on in our advocacy efforts, I’m a broken record when it comes to the issue of open enrollment and how we talk about school choice.

Even those who staunchly defend traditional public education can see that there are severe economic and racial inequities baked into the system when it comes to urban versus suburban schools. (Don’t believe me? Take three minutes and watch this video on the history of redlining featuring 50CAN’s Derrell Bradford.)

Those inequities, of course, are the result of assigning schools to families based on where they live, not what they need, and funding those schools in many states using property tax dollars.