February 3: Open Enrollment? Vouchers? School Choice?

Spotlight on Schools: Open Enrollment? Vouchers? School Choice?

February 3, 2017 – Open Enrollment? Vouchers? School Choice? What does it all mean?

Hello Black River Falls Community, this is Dr. Shelly Severson with the School District of Black River Falls here to share this week’s installment of our Spotlight on Schools! If you are paying attention to any of the national headlines regarding education, you likely have heard a great deal about School Choice and Voucher Schools. I’d like to take a few minutes to talk a bit about them and what they may mean to public education in our region.

Since the late 1700’s, any townships established must use a specified formula for regulating money raised by taxes and by selling or renting land to establish a system of public education. Since that time public education has seen countless additional responsibilities and roles added, more regulations about who must attend, who is eligible to attend, the licensing of the professionals within, and even the organization of such regulatory bodies, and yet some of the fundamental beliefs that built the system remain unchanged.

There is a quote by Nelson Mandela that I believe in with all that I am: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” As a nation and as a state, we believe that through an education, people can dramatically change their position in life. As students walk across the stage during their graduation ceremony, I often remind them that this diploma they have earned cannot ever be taken away from them. Once you earn an education, it is your tool to use as you see fit in all that you do!

That is what public education means to me; a means to provide ALL students, regardless of their economic status, ethnicity, disability, future career plans, etc., the opportunity to build their toolboxes and start plotting the course to the future that they have imagined for themselves.

While some of you may remember school as a place where everyone learned the exact same things, in the exact same way, on the exact same day. Everyone sat in their neat rows of desks and waited for the next direction from the teacher. This is one of the fastest changing things about education: inpidualization! Students are all in one room but some on computers, some working in small groups together, and some working with the teacher in a guided lesson. Inpidualization is a top priority for many students and families!

This is where school choice and vouchers come in. There is an ever increasing legislative movement to allow families to choose which school their child attends based off of their wishes, not the boundary lines that have been long since established. As you know, schools receive their funding based on the number of students that attend. When a family uses school choice to attend school outside of the district that they live in, the resident district must then send money to the district of choice. This is called school choice, or in Wisconsin is referred to as open enrollment. Open enrollment serves many good purposes; there are some schools that can offer specific programs that are not available in other places, they may draw some students in because of this. Due to our rural area, there are families that live within the boundaries of the Black River Falls School District, but are physically much closer to one of our neighboring districts. Additionally, some families work in a community outside of where they live, it is sometimes easier for them to bring their children to school in the community where they work. All of these are solid rationale to use open enrollment. Unfortunately, there are times when families choose to open enroll back and forth between districts because they are displeased with a specific incident or situation. There is no regulation on how many times a student may enroll in and/or out of a district. We have some families that continue to “hop” back and forth between us and our neighbors hoping to escape some challenges in one or both of the schools.

Moving beyond school choice and/or open enrollment is the voucher system. The voucher system is intended to provide public funding to families that would like to send their children to a private school. A private school that wishes to participate in the voucher program must register with the state, once approved, families are eligible to apply to school at the private, and often religious affiliated, school. If they are accepted, a portion of their tuition is paid for through public tax dollars.

In our immediate area, we do not have many private schools at the elementary age. By the time a student reaches high school and transportation is not such a barrier, there are many opportunities not too far away. There is grave concern among many public school districts that the tax dollars that support public education cannot possibly support two separate systems. If public dollars continue to be used to pay private tuition, that is less money available for public schools. Public schools are a right of all students, and we worry that the programs and offerings may continue to dwindle as funding becomes more and more scarce.

I guess the challenge for all of us is to determine how we can best support all of our students in getting the best education possible, while still being efficient with our funding.

As always, if you have any questions about this, or anything else within the district, don’t hesitate to contact me. Also, I have another quote for you from American Education Week. This one is from Sue Wester, the LMC Aide at Forrest Street Early Learning Center …. She says: “What I love about my job is sharing the love of reading! Being able to share great books and getting books in the hands of students. I love hearing them tell me they love my books!!!! I feel very lucky to be here at the Forrest Street.”

Thank you so much for your support of the School District of Black River Falls! Go Tigers!


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