The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Local News

March 23, 2008

PROS AND CONS OF OHIO’S OPEN ENROLLMENT, Students on the go hurt, help districts financially.

Ashtabula’s schools lost an estimated $1.8 million in per-pupil assistance

Ohio’s open enrollment policy may be a boon to restless students seeking a better situation, but also an enormous financial blow to the jilted school districts.

The policy, created by law, allows students to attend tuition-free a school district outside their residential area. Open enrollment was designed to provide flexibility to students and their parents. But the loss of the state’s per-pupil funding can create big budgetary headaches.

Ashtabula’s schools lost an estimated $1.8 million in per-pupil assistance when 372 students who live in the district opted to attend class elsewhere, said Superintendent Joseph Donatone.

Conversely, districts in demand can see their funding grow through the policy. Buckeye Local Schools saw a net gain of some $781,000 via open enrollment this school year.

At issue is the per-pupil state funding that follows a student wherever he or she goes. On average, each enrolled student is worth about $5,500 to a school districts.

Open enrollment figures for county school districts for 2007-2008, provided by superintendents, showed many students were on the move during the year. The figures include:

* Ashtabula Area City Schools — Gained 44 students, lost 372

* Buckeye Local Schools — Gained 226 students, lost 84

* Conneaut Area City Schools — Gained 30 students, lost 41

* Geneva Area City Schools — Gained 207 students, lost 170

* Grand Valley Local Schools — Gained 93 students, lost 59

* Jefferson Area Local Schools — Gained 87 students, lost 84

* Pymatuning Valley Local Schools — Gained 40 students, lost 60

Ohio schools are not obliged to offer open enrollment, but the vast majority do, according to the Ohio Department of Education Web site. Of the state’s 662 districts, only 173 (26 percent) do not offer the policy. Another 117 restrict open enrollment to adjacent districts only, while a whopping 372 districts — more than half — offer enrollment with no strings attached.

The seven Ashtabula County districts listed above are in the latter category.

Students migrate for many reasons, superintendents said. Some children or parents may be unhappy with a teacher or principal, officials said. Others may be enticed by another district’s new buildings or extracurricular offerings.

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