In the United States, where a child attends school is almost always determined by where he or she lives. 

This results in massive geographic inequities. Poorer neighborhoods tend to have lower-performing schools. 

School choice programs make a world of difference in remedying this ill because the student is afforded the opportunity to attend an alternative school, one not based on their zip code. Education freedom empowers parents to choose a school that  is better suited to their children’s needs.

Unfortunately, school choice programs such as education savings accounts (ESAs) or charter schools face strong opposition in some state legislatures. Where legislating school choice is not immediately feasible, K-12 open enrollment is the next best thing because it allows students to transfer to another school either inside or outside of their school district, so long as the school is not already at full capacity with students who reside within its stated boundaries. 

The implementation of open enrollment policies could dramatically increase education freedom because it untethers students to their zip code and empowers them to switch to a school nearby that is a better fit based on educational needs, desired learning philosophies, and specialized programs. 

Residential school assignments often have major consequences on a child’s future outcomes and successes:

For instance, Advanced Placement (AP) courses are a valuable tool for high school students, allowing them to receive college credit while still in high school. As of 2021, however, US News reported that nearly a quarter of high schools—mostly in rural areas—did not offer AP courses. This means that students assigned to rural public high schools could end up paying thousands of dollars more for college.

The Reason Foundation ranks states’ open enrollment policies and suggests simple steps for making it easy for families to take advantage of open enrollment in their school districts. 

  • Allow within-district and cross-district open enrollment, only rejecting incoming students for limited reasons, such as insufficient capacity.
  • Clearly post their open enrollment policies and procedures on their public websites, including all application deadlines.
  • Publicly report the number of open seats that every school has so families know which schools have availability.
  • Do not charge transfer students tuition or fees.

Currently, 43 states have some sort of open enrollment policy in place, but only 11 have mandatory open enrollment. Sadly, many states are quite hostile to families seeking to exercise their right to open enrollment. For example, an Ohio single mom and her father were charged with felonies after a private investigator found out that she had enrolled her children in a school in their grandfather’s neighborhood to escape bullying and poor education in their government-assigned school. 

No child should be deprived of a decent and safe education simply because of their zip code or family’s financial situation. Open enrollment policies in K-12 are essential to ensuring that at least within the public school system, students have freedom and opportunity to thrive.