Open enrollment at public districts could happen under Mayer proposal

Brennan Stebbins

When Sen. Rob Mayer (R-Dexter) filed Senate Bill 373, he said he had public school students in mind, not the schools.

The legislation would allow open enrollment of public school students across district lines, something Mayer said would benefit education.

“My focus is not on the schools or the institutions, my focus in filing the legislation is on the student,” Mayer said. “Sometimes we have gotten away from that as a culture and society and we need to remember the student is the reason why these institutions exist and the goal is to get those students the best quality education they can receive. That’s our focus and our concern.”

If the bill were adopted, parents or guardians would have to notify the student’s previous district and receiving district by Jan. 15 of the preceding school year. School districts would be required to outline appropriate class sizes and teacher-student ratios, and could reject students if accepting them would exceed one of the limits.

“We believe that competition will make all schools better,” Mayer said. “We see competition in business and even in higher education and that will cause the different public school districts to implement curriculum and programs that best meet the needs of the student.

“Here in Missouri or anywhere across the country we know we have students that have unique educational needs, so to tie them down to one particular school may not be good for that particular student,” he added. “Also, open enrollment gets the parents involved in the child’s education by allowing them to decide what school is appropriate for their child to attend.”

Mayer said he’s heard several complaints from students in urban areas about the fact that they were tied down to an educational system that wasn’t providing the kind of education they needed.

“This would allow them an opportunity to seek another school,” he said.

One concern with the bill is the possibility of a “mass exodus” of sorts from one area to another, but Mayer said safeguards in the bill would prevent that from happening.

“We’ve got safeguards in the bill so we don’t just see a whole flood of students going from one school to another,” he said.

“There was also some concern about students transferring exclusively for athletics purposes, but I believe the bill takes care of that,” he added. “We’ve got a provision that says participation in interscholastic athletics will be governed by the standards of the Missouri High School Activities Association. I think when they’ve already got guidelines and regulations in place dealing with students who transfer, that are pretty strict requirements, that would solve the problem.”

The Senator also pointed to the success of open enrollment policies in other states, including Iowa.

“The state of Iowa for one has had open enrollment for a number of time,” Mayer said, “and student achievement has increased and they’ve done well.

“Also, data has shown from other states that implemented open enrollment laws, they haven’t seen mass exoduses out of one school and going to another,” he added. “Data shows that where schools have lost a good amount of students that they’ve implemented educational system improvements that have made the schools better and more responsive to the needs of the students.”