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JPEF Weighs In On Open Enrollment Proposal

Patrick Donges

The Jacksonville Public Education Fund is the latest group weighing in on Duval County’s open enrollment debate with its own recommendations.The education research policy and advocacy group released an eight-page analysis in support of Superintendent Nikolai Vitti's proposal Monday, along with several recommendations, including more community input and additional transportation.

Vitti pitched the proposal earlier this month which would open school selection process to all families in the district, regardless of neighborhood. Under the plan,  families not happy with their neighborhood school could begin applying as early as April to attend another school outside their zone. However, schools already at 95 percent capacity would not be eligible to accept new students.

The plan has been met with resistance from some school board and community members who worry it will lead to a mass exodus of students from the district’s lowest performing schools.

JPEF’s report cites seven previous studies done on open enrollment across the country, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Florida's Pinellas County.

Among the studies, which span from 2000 to 2011, the number of students who ultimately transferred outside their school zone vary from about 11 percent to 50 percent.

While the findings among the studies were mixed, the report noted that the overall impacts of open enrollment across students appeared to be small “with the potential to significantly benefit or harm specific subgroups depending on how strategically models are designed to support or avoid those outcomes.”

A 2009 study of Pinellas County, where open enrollment took place between 2001 and 2005 found students who opted out of their neighborhood school often performed worse on standardized tests than similar students who stayed in their neighborhood school.

JPEF's report noted that the primary reason behind opting for a school outside the neighborhood was test scores, and several studies found that an unintended consequence of open enrollment was increased gaps between schools by achievement levels and race and ethnicity.

Vitti’s current plan does not include transportation provisions for students wishing to attend a school outside their neighborhood. However, JPEF echoed the concerns of some school board members that not providing the additional transportation will lead to only “the most well-resourced families being able to participate.”

The school board will vote on the open enrollment proposal April 1.

You can follow Rhema Thompson on Twitter @RhemaThompson.

Rhema Thompson began her post at WJCT on a very cold day in January 2014 and left WJCT to join the team at The Florida Times Union in December 2014.