Opinion

Superintendent’s corner: Be heard on open enrollment

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Each year there are numerous bills filed that could affect Cassville R-IV School District and all other public schools across Missouri. Many of these bills are a result of unrest in highly populated urban areas that result in blanket statewide legislation for all schools. During the past several years, the issue of open enrollment has been debated in Jefferson City multiple times. HB 1814 passed out of the House and was heard in the Senate Education Committee last week. In the name of reform, some legislators are proposing that parents be allowed to enroll their child or children in any school district they choose regardless of where they live or pay taxes. It is a simple concept, but with some serious unintended consequences for all Missouri districts. 

Johnson

For example, after 26 years of open enrollment in the state of Arizona, educators and parents continue to see numerous disparities in providing equity for all students across their state. Open enrollment in Arizona quickly led to high rejection rates for students with disabilities. Additionally, it became too easy for school districts in Arizona to limit admission based on ethnicity or race, national origin, sex, income level, English language proficiency, and the lack of athletic ability. In short, families with political connections and money are able to place their children in advantageous learning and extracurricular environments, while those without continue to get further behind. Arizona’s public schools under open enrollment have resulted in a patchwork system of haves and have-nots. There is definitely room for improvement for public schools in Missouri, but open enrollment is not the answer.  

In some states, open enrollment has created extracurricular superpowers. Talented students are recruited to participate in highly competitive extracurricular activities. These schools dominate activities and many local students who would normally participate are eliminated. Would talented Cassville students be recruited by other schools? How would Cassville parents feel if their student(s) were eliminated from participating in an activity by a student from Aurora or Monett? 

Open enrollment has the potential to impact the financial resources of the school districts that gain students and those that lose students. Missouri does not provide the same level of funding for any two school districts and local tax rates vary greatly among districts. As students move among Missouri school districts, open enrollment could create financial chaos. There is a concern that nonresident students attending the Cassville R-IV School District may place an added burden on our taxpayers. Additionally, there is a concern that a loss of our students to other school districts will drain our financial resources and impact the ability for us to serve the students who continue to attend Cassville R-IV Schools. 

The open enrollment bill (HB 1814) will likely lead to school consolidation across Missouri. Many people associate school consolidation with K-8 districts like Shell Knob and smaller rural schools like Exeter R-VI and Wheaton R-III. However, school consolidation is not limited to just small, rural districts. Even if a school district does not close and consolidate, the loss of students in the district will affect all remaining students as there will be less revenue to provide a more robust educational experience (e.g., loss of programs such as choir, band, scholar/debate teams, FBLA, FFA, FCCLA, and athletic programs). 

HB 1814 will pit public schools against one another. School districts will compete for students and large sums of money that should be utilized for the education of children will instead be used for marketing and other recruitment materials. Schools will also be forced to “one up” one another for the best facilities and best sports programs which will further deplete money going into the classroom.  

If HB 1814 is passed, school districts should expect a decline in community support and involvement. For example, if parents are living within the Cassville R-IV School District but sending their children to the Neosho School District, those parents will be less likely to support school improvement ballot measures in Cassville. This bill will more than likely wreak havoc in planning for school districts. Districts will be forced to hold larger sums of money in reserve in case swings in student population occur. This may result in teacher salaries remaining stagnant or the postponement of valuable educational experiences/programs. 

The Senate has the power to defeat HB 1814, but will only do so if they hear from parents and other community members. I urge you to contact Senator Mike Moon and voice your concerns about open enrollment and its implications to all the school districts within the 29th Senatorial District, which includes school districts in Barry, Lawrence, McDonald, Stone, and Taney counties. Senator Moon’s phone number is 573-751-1480 and his email is mike.moon@senate.mo.gov.  Open enrollment in some form is attached to several other education bills moving through the legislature. There are a host of other concerns that continue to arise as a result of HB 1814. I encourage you to review the actual bill text in detail, which can easily be found on the internet. If you have any questions about this bill or other bills affecting public education, please contact me by phone: (417) 847-2221, or email: mjohnson@cassville.k12.mo.us  .

Merlyn Johnson is the superintendent of the Cassville school district. He may be reached at 417-847-2221.