Survey: Open enrollment helps, hurts districts financially

LISBON — The Crestview school board announced earlier this year it needed to add modular classrooms for $100,000 to accommodate the growing number of open enrollment students.

No wonder. Of the 1,315 students at Crestview, 447, or nearly 34 percent, come from other school districts via open enrollment, the largest such influx of any district in Columbiana County.

Some might say this is a nice problem to have because the additional students translate into an additional $2.2 million in state funding for Crestview, making it by far the largest beneficiary financially from open enrollment among the county’s 11 school districts, plus West Branch in Mahoning County. West Branch was included in the survey because many of its students are from this county.

But one district’s gain is another district’s loss, and at the other end of the debate, East Liverpool sustained the biggest open enrollment loss, with 299 of its students transferring to other school districts. This resulted in a net loss of $1.1 million in state funding.

Begun in 1989, open enrollment gives students the option of choosing to attend other public school districts at no cost. School districts have the option of accepting open enrollment students, and about 75 statewide have done so, including everyone in the county.

The program continues to grow in popularity, to the benefit of some and the detriment to others because state funding for districts is provided on a per pupil basis (currently $6,000), and that funding follows the students wherever they go.

Of the 12 local districts surveyed by the newspaper — 11 in this county, plus West Branch — seven experienced a net gain from OE: Crestview, Beaver Local, Columbiana, Lisbon, Southern Local, United Local and West Branch. Sustaining a net loss, besides East Liverpool, were East Palestine, Leetonia, Salem and Wellsville.

The survey does not take into account students lost to cyber/charter schools, which can be substantial. For example, Beaver Local had 62 students attend various cyber/charter schools this year, resulting in the loss of $375,060 in state funding.

“These numbers cannot be ignored and make a significant impact to what we are able to do as a district,” said Beaver Local school treasurer Stacy Williams. She said while OE students have “helped ease the pain of our funding losses to charter schools,” the school district still experienced a net loss once you factor in students attending cyber/charter schools.

Beaver Local Superintendent Eric Lowe said many of the cyber schools benefit financially “while not having the traditional additional costs associated with schools, such as transportation, lunch and other brick/mortar costs associated with traditional schools … It is frustrating that these charter/community schools receive the full per pupil state share for students while not having these other costs.”

Columbiana Superintendent Don Mook, who is in the middle of writing a doctoral dissertation on school choice in Ohio, said he would have less of a problem with open enrollment if every district received $6,000 per student in state funding from OE, which is not the case.

Columbiana receives $2,900 in state funding per pupil for each OE student it takes in, but loses the full $6,000 for each student who chooses to attend another school district. The reason is OE funding, like direct state aid for schools, is based on a formula that is determined in part on a property values. Districts with higher property values such as Columbiana receive less state funding per pupil, and the same goes when it comes to OE.

“Property wealth again plays into the whole thing,” Mook said, adding he believes Columbiana receives the lowest in per pupil funding from the state by far compared to local districts. He would look at OE more favorably if each district was treated equally when it comes to the transfer of state funding, regardless of property values.

Mook said another problem with OE is that it chips away at a school district’s voter base, making it harder to pass levies at a time when the state is telling districts to rely more and more on local funding.

“If I had 160 kids who leave the district you’re telling me the parents of these kids are going to vote for a levy to fix up the school? Those parents are not going to support the local district” where they live if their children attend a different school, he said.

Columbiana unsuccessfully tried three times to get a building improvement levy passed, and Mook believes OE played a role in those defeats. The school board finally began borrowing money to make the necessary upgrades, which he said were needed to compete with the neighboring school districts that have built new facilities over the past decade. It has apparently paid off, with Columbiana now taking in more students from OE than it loses.

“We’re chipping away at what we need to do to compete,” while continuing to make academics a priority, Mook said. Columbiana is consistently the highest-rated school district in the county in terms of academic performance as measured by the state report card, but he said that is not enough to compete with other districts.

Amenities such as air conditioning draw students. Mook said they are planning to add air conditioning at the middle school, which the elementary and high schools already have, as do most of the other school districts bordering Columbiana. He said they actually had a family send their three children to another school district because it had AC.

“I’m promoting high-quality teachers in the district and the education the students receive, but (parents) don’t want their kids sitting there and coming home soaked in sweat,” he said.

The following is a breakdown of how each local district surveyed fared in terms of open enrollment (OE) for 2017:

–Beaver Local

The school district took in 302 OE students, while 258 opted to attend other schools, for a net gain of 44. This resulted in an additional $312,663 in state funding.

The largest group of OE students (212) were from East Liverpool, while the largest group lost to OE (89) went to Crestview. OE students made up 16 percent of Beaver Local’s total enrollment.

–Columbiana

The school district took in 207 OE students, while 182 opted to attend other schools, for a net gain of 25. This resulted in an additional $133,670 in state funding.

The largest group of OE students (34) were from East Palestine, while the largest group lost to OE (129) went to Crestview. OE students made up 20 percent of Columbiana’s total enrollment.

–Crestview

The school district took in 447 OE students, while 70 chose to attend other schools, for a net gain of 377. This resulted in an additional $2.2 million in state funding.

The largest group of OE students (129) were from Columbiana, while the largest group lost to OE (31) went to Columbiana. OE students made up 33.9 percent of Crestview’s total enrollment.

–East Liverpool

The school district took in 113 OE students, while 299 chose to attend other schools, for a net loss of 186. This resulted in a $1.1 million loss in state funding.

The largest group of OE students were from Beaver Local (80), while the largest group lost to OE (212) went to Beaver Local. OE students made up 5.2 percent of East Liverpool’s total enrollment.

–East Palestine

The school district took in 40 OE students, while 185 chose to attend other schools, for a net loss of 145. This resulted in an $874,210 loss in state funding.

The largest group of OE students were from Crestview (17), while the largest group lost to OE (118) went to Crestview. OE students represented 3.2 percent of East Palestine’s total enrollment.

–Leetonia

The school district took in 82 OE students, while 143 chose to attend other schools, for a net loss of 61. This resulted in a $333,362 loss in state funding.

The largest group of OE students were from Salem (38), while the largest group of student lost to OE (44) went to Crestview. OE students represented 12.4 percent of Leetonia’s total enrollment.

–Lisbon

The school district took in 156 OE students, while 84 chose to attend other schools, for a net gain of 72. This resulted in a $414,972 in additional state funding.

The largest group of OE students were from Southern Local (40), while the largest group of students lost to OE (21) went to Beaver Local. OE students represented 18.5 percent of Lisbon’s total enrollment.

–Salem

The school district took in 105 OE students, while 285 chose to attend other schools, for a net loss 180. This resulted in a net loss of $1 million in state funding.

The largest group of OE students were from West Branch (26), while the largest group of students lost to OE (72) went to West Branch. OE students represented 4.9 percent of Salem’s enrollment.

–Southern Local

The school district took in 159 OE students, while 128 chose to attend open schools, for a net gain of 31. This resulted in a net gain of $186,943 in state funding.

The largest group of OE students (59) were from Wellsville, while the largest group of students lost to OE (39) went to Lisbon. OE students represented 18.7 percent of Southern Local’s total enrollment.

–United Local

The school district took in 166 OE students, while 96 chose to attend other schools, for a net gain of 70. This resulted in $418,826 in additional state funding.

The largest group of OE students (51) were from Salem, while the largest group of students lost to OE (22) went to Salem. OE students represented 14 percent of United Local’s total enrollment.

–Wellsville

The school district took in 97 OE students, while 112 chose to attend other schools, for a net loss of 15. This resulted in a net loss of $92,270 in state funding.

The largest group of OE students (45) were from East Liverpool, while the largest group of students lost to OE (59) went to Southern Local. OE students represented 12.7 percent of Wellsville’s total enrollment.

–West Branch

The school district took in 385 OE students, while 147 chose to attend other schools, for a net gain of 238. This resulted in $1.39 million in additional state funding.

The largest group of OE students (116) were from Sebring, while the largest group of students lost to OE (37) went to Sebring. OE students represented 20.9 percent of West Branch’s total enrollment.

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