Open Enrollment: A Vehicle for Market Competition in Schooling?
"Following the repeated failure in the United States of numerous federal tax credit and voucher proposals for education in the recent past, the retiring President Reagan and his successor President Bush announced in January 1989 their enthusiastic support for an alternative reform that seems to them to promise more political success. It is know as 'the open enrollment plan.'
For many years we have witnessed the monopoly style exclusive territory practice in public education whereby students are geographically assigned to one school exclusively. The open enrollment plan, in contrast, claims to give parents a meaningful choice of schools across districts and sometimes across a whole state. The plan is now being attempted in England and Canada as well as in the United States. In Toronto the authorities have for some time claimed that there is open choice among government high schools. In practice, however, the most popular schools are soon declared 'full' on the basis of obscure administrative criteria. But in England, Mrs. Thatcher has now laid down strong safeguards against bureaucratically imposed quotas in schools. British schools enrolling below a certain number must close down.
The U.S. state that has pioneered the open enrollment concept the furthest is Minnesota. And indeed much interest and excitement is being shown there this year because of what is thought to be a crucial new modification. The state has announced that up to $4,000 in state aid will move with each child who transfers from one public school to another. Minnesota authorities explain that the plan will force school districts to improve or to close down for lack of funds. The Governor of Minnesota, Rudy Perpich, describes the system as 'market forces at work' (Leslie et al. 1988, p. 77). And it seems to be this latest Minnesota version of open enrollment that has caught the attention of Presidents Reagan and Bush."
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