Area parents interested in having their child or children attend a different school district have the opportunity to apply for that educational option starting this week through the public school open enrollment program.

The online application period for the 2019-’20 school year opened Feb. 4 and runs through April 30, with applications available on the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website.

Traditionally, children in Wisconsin are assigned to attend school in 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 2018-’19 school year, the transfer amount is an estimated $7,379 per student or $12,431 for students with disabilities. Resident districts cannot deny any student’s open enrollment application for cost reasons.



Local numbers


At Northland Pines, the open enrollment program started the year with 99 incoming students and 94 outgoing students, according to District Administrator Scott Foster. The latest figures show that Pines currently has 93 in and out. 

“Some of the ‘ins’ can change based on families moving, including situations of students moving into the district,” said Foster. “Of the students open enrolling ‘out’ almost 68% never attended our district or tried it. Many of these students attend their home school, the family moves across the border and they want to finish their career in their original school. We also have some open enrolled in that way, so that makes the number not always show that families are picking one district over another district for any reason except just to keep doing what they have always done.” 

Foster said the open enrollment program impacts the school district in several ways. 

“First it is a financial burden to the district if you have a large number of student leaving the district and very few coming in. Thankfully, the number has been close or to the positive since 2009,” said Foster. “In fact, six of the last seven years we have had more in than out. 

“Besides the financial impact, it is a monitor on how well we are doing. If a district is doing a good job, students and families want to attend your district,” said Foster. “The great staff, outstanding facilities and positive culture all add to families wanting to come. We continue to get great feedback on our charter schools and alternative learning opportunities like the Phoenix Center. We offer a lot of AP classes, vocational classes and the arts are all important to students and families. 

“We will continue to create great schools, market our district to new and potential open enrollment families, and keep having so many good things to offer students,” said Foster. “The bottom line is if you have schools that support all students in reaching their potential and dreams, families are going to want to come and also stay.” 

For the 2019-’20 school year, the Three Lakes School District has 80 incoming students and 77 outgoing open enrollees, according to District Administrator George Karling.

“Although we are situated between two significantly larger districts, we continue to provide a vast array of co-curricular offerings well beyond other districts our size,” said Karling. “Our academic achievement levels remain among the highest — regularly in the top three — in our CESA on state report cards. This is evidence that our innovative programming, engaging culture and personalized education system are working effectively to ensure our students have a well-rounded education that prepares them for their post-secondary goals.

Karling said he likes the direction Three Lakes is going concerning open enrollment.

“If trends continue from the past two years, our percentage of incoming open enrollment students will continue to exceed outgoing open enrollment,” said Karling. “We look forward to helping all parents who are interested in developing a personal education plan for their students through the open-enrollment process in our district.”



Program growing


Administered by the DPI, the state’s public school open enrollment program has been in operation since the 1998-’99 school year. In the first year of open enrollment, 2,464 students transferred from their home district to a nonresident public school district. Last year, 60,820 students transferred through open enrollment.

Under public school open enrollment, parents or guardians 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 7 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, dpi.wi.gov/directories, is available on the DPI website. To find additional information about open enrollment, visit the department’s Public School Open Enrollment website, dpi.wi.gov/open-enrollment.

More information is also available from local school districts or from an open enrollment consultant at DPI, (888) 245-2732 (toll-free), or openenrollment@dpi.wi.gov.