North Dakota misses the mark with K-12 open enrollment laws

North Dakota fails to meet best policy practices for public school open enrollment options, according to a new Reason Foundation report by Jude Schwalbach that ranked all 50 states’ K-12 open enrollment laws.

The report analyzed every state’s open enrollment policies, identifying what each state is doing well, where each state falls short, and steps to make open enrollment more robust. Unfortunately, North Dakota did not meet any of Reason Foundation’s five best practices.

While no state currently meets every best practice, some states “still provide good models for other states to replicate,” according to Schwalbach. They include: Wisconsin, Florida, Colorado, Delaware and Arizona, which you can read about more in-depth here.

North Dakota’s Ranking on K-12 Open Enrollment Policies

Source: Reason Foundation

Mandatory cross-district open enrollment

Cross-district open enrollment policies (also called inter-district) allow families to enroll their children in a school located outside of their geographically assigned resident district.

North Dakota school districts can participate in voluntary cross-district open enrollment, but it is not mandatory. If a district refuses to participate, students in neighboring school districts are left with fewer or no alternatives for public schooling. “All too often, voluntary open enrollment means that the best schools with open seats can continue to exclude children from outside their boundaries, fundamentally undermining” the open enrollment program’s purpose, writes Schwalbach.

Students interested in transferring to a participating district must submit an application to the school boards of both the sending and receiving districts, as each board has its own measures in place for accepting or rejecting applicants. According to state statute, if the school board determines the family wanting to transfer was encouraged to pursue open enrollment by the school district, “the board must reject all transfer applications and the superintendent of public instruction can withhold a part [of] or all state aid from the school district for a year,” summarizes Schwalbach.

Mandatory within-district open enrollment

Within-district open enrollment policies (also called intra-district) allow families to enroll their children in any school located within their assigned resident district.

North Dakota does not have a within-district open enrollment program.

Transparent reporting by the State Education Agency (SEA) and transparent school capacity reporting

Transparent reporting for North Dakota’s cross-district open enrollment option is lacking, according to Schwalbach. Requiring districts to post their available capacity online would help families see and know their options.

Children have free access to all public schools

North Dakota’s open enrollment policies do not meet this best practice, as the school district from which a student is transferring can refuse to pay the cost of tuition or sign the tuition waiver contract. This leaves families on the line for paying at least 50 percent of the cost of tuition on the day they enroll their child and the remaining amount by December 31.

“No district should be able to charge tuition to families for public K-12 education,” writes Schwalbach.