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164. Moving On: Why Students Move Between Districts Under Open Enrollment. 2008.
Author: John F. Witte, Deven E. Carlson and Lesley Lavery

Over the past twenty years states have used various methods to expand the schooling options available to public school students and their parents. Many of these programs, such as charter schools, private school vouchers, and magnet schools are broadly recognizable and have been thoroughly studied in the academic literature. Other programs, such as interdistrict open enrollment, the focus of this paper, are less visible and have gone largely unstudied by academics and policy analysts. The dearth of studies on this topic occurs in spite of the fact that, in most states, interdistrict open enrollment policies serve more students than all other public school choice programs combined. This paper attempts to partially fill this void in the literature by analyzing open enrollment patterns and trends in two states, Minnesota and Colorado. The paper begins by describing the political development of open enrollment in the United States broadly, with the situations in Colorado and Minnesota addressed in greater detail. It then moves on to analyzing the factors that affect the number of students choosing to open enroll into and out of a school district.
The analyses in this paper are based on detailed district-level data from the Minnesota and Colorado Departments of Education. We use two separate sets of models to study the open enrollment processes in each state. The first set of models, which we refer to as “macro” models, uses OLS to model the aggregate number of students entering and leaving a district under open enrollment. The second set of models, which we term “micro” models, use generalized least squares with random effects controls to model each open enrollment “transaction” between districts in terms of where student go or come from. In the micro analysis we employ the precise differences between districts with respect to several characteristics to try to understand the student flows.
Estimation of these models reveals that interdistrict transfer choices are based on multiple factors, including the socioeconomic characteristics and academic performance of school districts. Specifically, districts with higher percentages of students eligible for free lunch have more students open enroll out of the district and fewer students open enroll into the district than districts with lower percentages of students eligible for free lunch. A similar trend is seen for academic performance; high-performing districts have more students entering and fewer students leaving relative to their lower-performing peers. The policy implications of these findings cut in two directions. If interdistrict transfer becomes increasingly prevalent, as it already is in some of the metropolitan areas in this study, open enrollment will cause further segregation in terms of achievement levels and socioeconomic characteristics between districts. On the other hand, such transfers also allow families an easier route to a more desirable school system than residential location, which has been the traditional assignment mechanism.


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