Online applications for public school open enrollment for the 2018-19 school year, Wisconsin’s public school choice program, will be available on the Department of Public Instruction website beginning Feb. 5 through April 30.
The state’s public school open enrollment program has been in operation since the 1998-99 school year and is administered by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. In the first year of open enrollment, 2,464 students transferred from their home district to a nonresident public school district. Last year, 58,347 students transferred through open enrollment. Program statistics for the 2017-18 school year will be available in fall of 2018.
The Westby Area School District saw an increase in its open enrollment numbers out of the district for the 2017-18 school year with146 students open enrolling out of the district and 58 students open enrolling in. The year before (2016-17) Westby had 139 students open enroll out of the district and 72 students open enrolled into the district.
Traditionally, children in Wisconsin are assigned to public school districts based on the location of their parents’ home. Open enrollment is a tuition-free opportunity for parents to apply for their children to attend a public school in a school district other than the one in which they live. The open enrollment program is funded by state general equalization aid transfers between sending and receiving school districts, with the transfer amount calculated on statutory provisions. For the 2017-18 school year, the transfer amount is $7,055 per student. The transfer amount for students with disabilities is $12,207.
The Westby Area School District has room for students wishing to open enroll into the district, but reluctantly the Board of Education voted in January to limit the number of open enrollment students into the district with disabilities. The decision was partially based on state reimbursement reductions that typically fall short of overall costs to properly educate students with special needs, but more so the decision was based on an unfortunate shortage of qualified people to properly service the needs of students with disabilities and already full caseloads of current employees working in the department.
Over the past few years the Special Education program has seen an increase in its special needs student numbers. In the 2017-18 budget the department budget was increased by approximately $250,000 to help with increased educational costs. Westby has managed to fill the majority of its special education vacancies and open positions, but still has two full-time openings for school psychologists.
District Pupil Services Director Jason Winsor said the is diligently trying to fill the open positions, but Westby is not alone in its mission and many districts have open positions in the special needs area where less and less people are entering the field nationally making it more difficult during the hiring process.
The Westby Area School District cannot refuse any student, with or without special needs, from attending Westby or Coon Valley schools if they reside within the school district. The newly imposed restriction only affects students with special needs who may be opting to open enroll into the Westby district, but whose residential home address is outside the district.
Actual district student count and membership numbers are recorded after the third Friday in September. Westby recorded a district a head count of 1,114 for the 2017-18 school year and a membership count of 1,166. Those numbers are down from the previous year (2016-17) when Westby schools recorded a head count of 1,139 and a membership count of 1,176.
Under public school open enrollment, parents may apply during the three-month application period to the school district they wish their children to attend using the online application website. Application deadlines are firm. Early and late applications are not accepted. Districts will notify parents by June 8 whether their open enrollment applications have been approved or denied. Although an alternate application procedure allows parents to apply for open enrollment outside of the three-month application period, there are more restrictions associated with the alternate procedure.
Transportation to and from a nonresident school, in most circumstances, is the responsibility of the parent. However, some school districts may provide partial transportation. Parents with questions should call the nonresident school district office to find out if any transportation will be provided. Reimbursement of a portion of transportation costs is available for families whose children are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals based on federal income guidelines.
To assist parents in submitting open enrollment applications, a directory of public school districts is available on the DPI website. To find additional information about open enrollment, visit the department’s Public School Open Enrollment website. More information also is available from local school districts or from an open enrollment consultant at DPI, (888) 245 2732 (toll-free), or email@example.com.