New open enrollment law: School leaders raise concern

KANSAS (KSNW) – A new state law lets parents choose which school district to enroll their children in instead of being limited to the district where they live. While lawmakers say this gives families more options, school leaders say it is a headache and could cost them money.

While this law doesn’t go into effect until the school year starting in 2024, several school officials are already raising alarm about the law turning open enrollment into a lottery for every student that might want to join an out-of-district school.

“In Buhler, we have anywhere from 25 to 30 percent out-of-district students right now, and it’s really a system that works,” said Cindy Couchman, the superintendent of the Buhler school district.

Couchman said her school district already has open enrollment in place. She said that allows them to prioritize who can join their district.

“We can’t prioritize students, and the student group that I, well most school districts want to prioritize, would be staff students like when we hire staff we want and encourage, and our staff want to have their students attend our school district,” said Couchman.

Couchman is concerned if the kids of new teachers can’t win the lottery to attend their school, she’ll lose that teacher.

Under the new law, by June, districts must release the number of available open enrollment slots.
Families apply, and by July, a lottery will pick who gets to attend.

The deputy commissioner for fiscal and administrative services with the Kansas State Department of Education said schools will have to be careful about how many open enrollment students they can have.

“If you are growing and you set capacity, [for example] we can have 22 students. You bring in those three nonresident students well, then in October, five more students move in. If they’re a resident in your district, you have to take them, and now you are exceeding capacity, so you’ve have created an issue there,” said Craig Neuenswander, the deputy commissioner for fiscal and administration services at the Kansas State Department of Education.

Because funding for each district is based on the previous year’s enrollment, districts won’t get the money for the new students until their second year.