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North Carolina to Follow Colorado’s K-12 Open Enrollment Policy Standard?

Update, 4:30 PM: The Friedman Foundation blog notes the “Friday Freakout” reaction against the proposed North Carolina program is largely based on fears that open enrollment would lead to administrative chaos. That hardly seems like a compelling argument to me.

Giving parents more say and students more options in K-12 education should be a no-brainer, win-win policy. Allow any student to cross district boundaries and enroll in any public school that has room for him? You mean there are states that still don’t do that?

Guess not. Or at least in one significant case, at least not yet. Last week the Charlotte Observer reported:

A state legislative subcommittee wants North Carolina students to be able to attend any public school in the state, allowing them to cross district lines without having to pay tuition or receive permission from the school system they’re leaving.

Open enrollment has been the law of Colorado for more than 20 years, and is almost universally accepted today. (My Education Policy Center friends told the story of how it came to be in one of the best issue paper page-turners of all time.) The law is not a panacea by any means, but it does enable more students to find suitable educational options rather than simply get plugged into the system based on ZIP code.

Colorado law requires the basics to guarantee student and parental rights to make a transfer, but local districts also can make stronger policies. They can offer more or extended periods of open enrollment, an easier path to return to a neighborhood school if desired, and recourse to appeal decisions. That’s why in 2010 my Education Policy Center friends successfully offered open enrollment policy changes on the Douglas County School Choice Task Force.

Interestingly, state senator Fletcher Hartsell, the North Carolina legislative sponsor behind the open enrollment proposal, cited the Dougco model. The Charlotte Observer story also notes that the proposal’s language closely mirrors that of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Open Enrollment Act.

But what if that were because the ALEC model bill closely mirrors the best parent- and student-friendly policy available — namely, Colorado’s law? Well, that won’t stop certain groups from looking for bogeymen, but it does make me feel good about my state setting the standard in an important area like this one.

Overall, I’m pleased to see North Carolina make some positive K-12 policy strides. First, streamlining tenure and phasing out the most clear-cut unanimously ineffective policy in K-12 education today: “masters bumps.”

And now a chance at real open enrollment, one of the most basic and well established piece of parent-empowering education reform. The more North Carolina can follow Dougco’s innovative lead by pushing decisions down to the school level, to teachers and to families, the greater the potential for real, sustainable change that opens doors for students.