Guest Columnist

Open enrollment is a choice program that deserves equity funding

Signs welcome students on the first day of school at Longfellow Elementary in the Marion Independent School District in Marion, Iowa. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Signs welcome students on the first day of school at Longfellow Elementary in the Marion Independent School District in Marion, Iowa. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Iowa provides parents a choice of which school they want their children to attend. This process is called open enrollment. Every school district in Iowa is a participant. Every family, looking for their choice of a public education venue that best serves their child’s needs, is affected. Every taxpayer in Iowa is affected.

This decision of where to go to school affects the long-term process vested in finding families the best long-term educational opportunity. This process works for families and their children to plan for their future. Iowans have great choices that ensure long-term satisfaction.

To fulfill family choice and achieve long-term satisfaction, Iowa needs to fully subsidize receiving districts for new student enrollees. However, allocated funds per student are not mandated to move with the student. Many categorical funds remain with the original resident school district.

For example, our district receives $8,611 for a resident student and $6,914 for an open-enrolled student. The difference needs to be transferred to the district educating the open-enrolled student.

Do we demand allocated category funds in early literacy, teacher salary supplemental aid, professional development, SAVE and other areas follow the open-enrolled child? If so, and our demand is met, the school taxation burden is leveled, parental school choice is retained and fair distribution of resources is ensured.

This would ensure equal state-allocated and authorized resources for each child in Iowa’s public schools. In this way the resources would be provided in the equity context in which they were identified.

If we, as Iowans, believe that fairness of what is appropriated and authorized needs equal distribution to the intended public school students, then change is essential to ensure dollars to safeguard equity to taxpayers, quality programs for all students, and continued choice for public schools. Provide the funds to the school where open-enrolled students attend.

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Benefits of this would be clearly seen in the classroom. Parents select an open enrollment school as a “Foundation in Iowa Educational” practice. The teacher is provided equitable resources to serve each child every day and is predisposed to inspire every child to their fullest potential.

As educators, we need to communicate with our community members about equity. We need to reflect consciously about our commitment to our local funding authority and our educational values. We need to ensure our community is aware when quality educational programs are funded as needed for all our children to succeed. As educators and educated community members, we must stand on guard to ensure we are protecting our nation’s most valuable resource — our children and future leaders of our nation.

Every nation is only as strong as its weakest link, and education for all our children reflects our nation’s future. It was a long-term plan that public education was for all of Iowa and our nation’s children, today and tomorrow. Yet, it cannot be so under current funding.

Appropriate, equitable funding that follows open-enrolled students best affords all children the opportunity to thrive in an educated society that makes all links strong. The choice is to ensure that today’s children are tomorrow’s strong citizens.

• Chris Dyer is superintendent of the Marion Independent School District.

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