Open Enrollment

Mark KowalskiAccording to the Ohio Department of Education, “Open enrollment allows a student to attend school tuition-free in a district other than the district where his or her parents reside.” Sure, it sounds simple enough but the way open enrollment plays out in Ohio school districts is more nuanced than that. 
Out of 609 school districts in the state, 82.4 percent offer some level of open enrollment, including all of the school districts in Hancock County. 
Liberty-Benton Local Schools has participated in Ohio’s widely used open enrollment program since the 2010-2011 school year. Our district enrollment is currently at 1451 students in grades K-12.  We have 309 students who are open enrolled from various school districts.  Conversely, we have 104 students who are open enrolled out of our district. 
In our recent community surveys, we saw a little bit of skepticism about open enrollment, and I would like to address these concerns because I truly believe that open enrollment comes with great benefits to participating school districts. 
Let me make it clear that there are limits to the number of students accepted into our district from outside of the school district. For example, we cap each grade level at a sustainable number of students, and if that cap is reached with students residing inside the school district then we do not accept students from outside of the district. That is generally how open enrollment works.  In other words, open enrollment is only used to fill empty seats. That being said, all districts have bubble years in which there are larger numbers of students in certain grade levels due to high birth rates and other factors. If that is the case, then we make accommodations to meet the needs of our district residents and will add classroom staff, if necessary, to accommodate larger grade levels.
And there are many benefits to open enrollment – more choices for families, more choices for students through expanded course and extracurricular offerings and a more diverse student population. Added to that, open enrollment helps combat our state’s fragmented school funding model. Because all districts in Hancock County participate in the state’s open enrollment program, if a Liberty-Benton resident chooses to attend another school district, the state’s funding for that student follows him or her, which means our school district loses critical state funding. The converse is also true – if a child from outside our district attends Liberty-Benton, then the state funding for that child follows that child. Since 2010, the district has offset the expense of resident students attending school elsewhere by accepting students from other districts. From a financial prospective, open enrollment generated $1,885,625.00 in fiscal year 2018 – more than our two emergency levies combined which produce $1,424,000 annually. 
Ultimately, the goal is to stay cost neutral and balance the loss of revenue we have from our students attending school in other districts. Our district offers a great value to residents with a great quality of education and a mindset of carefully stretching our precious resources as far as possible. We are not looking at renovating or replacing our buildings because of open enrollment; our school buildings have serious mechanical and structural issues that must be addressed to protect the investment in the school and maintain the great quality of education all Liberty-Benton students receive.
Mark Kowalski
Liberty-Benton Local Schools

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