Expanded Public School Enrollment Now Law in Wisc.

MacIver News Service | February 1, 2012

[Madison, Wisc…] On Wednesday, Governor Scott Walker (R) signed Senate Bill 2 into law. SB2 which extends the open enrollment period from the previous 3 week window to three months.

“Open enrollment empowers parents with additional educational opportunities for students,” said Governor Walker.  “I am glad we were able to put this legislation in place prior to the spring session.  State Senator Olsen and Representative Jacque have done a great job leading this bill through the Legislature.”

This year’s open enrollment period now runs from February 6 to the end of April.

However SB2 further empowers parents to exercise enrollment options in the remaining 9 months of the year as well. The new law changes the process of open enrollment. The law will allow for a freer transfer of students between public schools across districts. This includes provisions for year-round transfers for students that aren’t happy with their current schools.

“This is the single largest expansion of parental rights in Wisconsin public education in generations,” said Jane Kummer Meyer, President of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families, when the bill passed last week. “Now, if a public school is willing to enroll a student anytime during the year the only way that transfer is blocked is if bureaucrats try to say they, and not parents, have the best interest of the child at heart.”

By creating a free market within Wisconsin’s public schools, reformers believe the new law will foster competition between school districts and increase the influence of parents in areas as far reaching as curriculum development and school operations.

Previously families a three-week window in the beginning of February during which they can apply to attend a public school other than their local neighborhood school. The resident school board could prevent students from leaving by rejecting their application and informing parents by April.

Parents will now have the ability to apply to up to three districts in an expanded timeline for open enrollment transfers. The application period will now run from the beginning of each February to the end of April and families will know whether or not their transfer has been approved by June – in time for the upcoming school year. This means that parents will have a better idea of the options available for their children and in a more timely manner than the previous system.

Moreover, stipulations exist that will allow students to transfer outside of this window as well. If students meet certain conditions parents can apply for their transfer at any time during the year. If the receiving district has room available for the student, then they will be compelled to accept the transfer unless the district and the Department of Public Instruction both rule that the transfer does not have the student’s best interests at heart.

School districts will have to determine the number of open slots for all students – both regular and special education based – in January. These limits will be determined by criteria such as class size, student-teacher ratios, and enrollment projections. Students that are excluded from transferring thanks to these limits will be put on a waiting list, and parents will know whether or not they have been accepted by the third Friday in September.

The legislation had the support of educational groups across the state. In addition to the Virtual School Families, the American Federation for Children, the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, and the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators all rallied behind the plan.

WASB and WASDA supported a measure in the bill that extended the annual deadline by which districts had to notify teachers of nonrenewal of their contracts from March 15 to May 15.

WASB Executive Director John H. Ashley wrote a letter to the Governor earlier this week, in which he encouraged swift signing of the legislation.

“Passage of this bill was delayed for several months as both houses worked to agree to adopt a compromise amendment giving students whose outside-the-window Open Enrollment application is not approved by their resident school district an opportunity to appeal to the DPI,” wrote Ashley. “While we have some reservations as to how the process will work in practice, we understand that this was the best compromise that could be worked out at this time.”

Parent advocates boast that this new law amounts to is the passage of year-round public school choice for Wisconsin’s families. Parents will have more flexibility and a greater awareness not only of their schooling options, but also over when their children can transfer if they decide that their neighborhood school is not for them.

“The Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families will diligently follow the rulemaking process to ensure that parental rights remain paramount and that the promise of full-year statewide public school choice is realized,” Kummer Meyer said, in anticipation of a battle in the upcoming rulemaking process over what is now 2011 Wisconsin Act 114.