Archived Story

Editorial: Enrollment study fuels questions

Published 9:49am Friday, January 25, 2013

A new study about the impacts of Minnesota’s open enrollment policy is raising some important findings about the concept. Primarily, it shows “white flight” — many white students use it to transfer out of racially diverse districts.

Considering St. Cloud — and by its outbound “flight” pattern, central Minnesota — was specifically cited as being most dramatically affected, this certainly is a concern to examine. But should “white flight” spur drastic reforms or even end open enrollment? No.

Open enrollment remains a powerful tool in allowing students a choice of schools. And because per-pupil state aid follows students to the schools they choose, it remains a viable way to motivate schools and districts to be competitive with their peers.

If anything, the message from this study is that after about 25 years of operation, perhaps it’s time to look for ways to reform it (and many other aspects of education funding) so that open enrollment helps reduce — not increase — the statewide academic achievement gap between white students and most minority student groups.

The study, by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School, looked at open enrollment trends in the Twin Cities and St. Cloud. Findings include:

• Since 2000, open enrollment has increased segregation. In 2009-10, 36 percent of moves were segregative, 24 percent were integrative, and the rest race-neutral. The percentage of segregative moves grew during the decade from 23 percent to 36 percent, a change due almost entirely to a large increase among white open enrollees.

• The three large city districts of Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Cloud each lost substantial numbers of students under open enrollment. Most were white. St. Cloud’s participation is overwhelmingly as a sending district, primarily to Sauk Rapids-Rice, Annandale, Rocori, Becker and Sartell-St. Stephen.

While it’s very tempting to use the study to foster debates about “white flight,” racism, school funding and political correctness, the critical question to ask doesn’t focus just on race.

If the state is serious about open enrollment meeting its original mission — school choice and school competition — education and policy leaders must ask this: Who isn’t using open enrollment and why not?

Those answers are just as important to open enrollment’s future as was determining the race of students deciding to use it.

— St. Cloud Times, Jan. 22