the Beacon Journal editorial board
Since 1989, students in Ohio have had the option of enrolling in any public school district that will accept them. As open enrollment expanded rapidly across the state, no district accepted as many outside students as the Coventry local schools. In the past school year, the district educated 782 outside students, most from Akron, or 38 percent of its enrollment.
Questions about how the policy of accepting any student from any district in Ohio is affecting Coventryís finances often have surfaced during school levy campaigns. In a recent performance audit, the result of the district being placed in fiscal emergency by the state, Dave Yost presented his analysis, part of a comprehensive fiscal overview.
The state auditor recommended a drastic reduction in open enrollment students, down to at least 116. At that level, Yost sensibly advised, open enrollment students would round out classes, allowing the district to increase revenue while not adding staff members. The overall savings would be $1.5 million a year, important in getting the district budget in order.
Go beyond filling in seats, and a financially precarious situation arises, Yost warned. While Coventry receives $11,103 in state and local revenue per resident student, it gets just $5,997 for each open enrollment student.
How the district will respond is not clear. Although the report is detailed, its scope does not include all of the results of such a steep drop in enrollment. As Superintendent Russ Chaboudy rightly points out, a reduction of that magnitude would mean cutting back programs and opportunities for students.
More, the report does not address the low level of state aid for resident students, $2,804, Coventry caught in a squeeze because of high property values yet low income levels, a major and familiar flaw in the state funding formula.
The effects of open enrollment on districts such as Akron long have been plain. Beyond the financial losses, the flight of largely white, middle-class students has contributed to racial and social isolation. The auditorís report helps complete the picture by examining the effects of open enrollment on districts that gain students.
What the legislature had in mind was to enhance educational opportunities in all schools, yet there has been no detailed assessment of how that goal is being met. Oversight is minimal, the state Department of Education merely checking that districts have a policy and certify they are following the broad outlines of state law.
A cursory review in 2013 by a task force recommended the state adopt model policies and beef up oversight, but the nine-page report did not develop specific goals. The task force also recommended options to help districts such as Akron deal with the financial blow of large-scale open enrollment, but those fell flat, too.
Neither has the legislature acted on bills introduced by state Sen. Tom Sawyer. The Akron Democrat, who helped push to create the task force, repeatedly has urged a more thorough review. The Coventry audit is another sign the governor and lawmakers have not looked at how this big experiment in school choice is working.