New research conducted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Reason Foundation reveals that Texas lags behind other states in allowing students to pursue open enrollment, a key component of the pursuit of better educational opportunities for parents across the country. Instead of making the process transparent and accessible, Texas school districts make it burdensome and often costly for parents to transfer in and out of school districts, according to the research paper “Don’t Fence Me In: Improving Texas’ System of Student Transfers.”

“Each district has different transfer policies, making it burdensome for families to effectively weigh their educational options. Transportation can also be a hurdle for families; some districts provide nonresident student transportation, others do not,” the research explains. “A district may charge tuition of an amount up to the difference between its actual expenditure per student and the state aid it receives; for some districts, this amounts to over $10,000 per year.”

“Texas families can apply to attend public schools in districts outside of their attendance zone,” said Emily Sass, distinguished senior fellow at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, “but it can cost them up to tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege, and districts can turn students down at their discretion. Parents need to be able to know where seats are available and how much it will cost—and if students are being sidelined.”

“Research from other states is clear—students benefit when given opportunities across school district boundaries. Families participate in open enrollment for various reasons including to participate in specialized programs, access different instructional approaches, and escape bullying,” said Aaron Smith, director of education reform at Reason Foundation. “With our recommendations, Texas can do so much more to give students access to seats in other districts, allowing them to pursue better academic opportunities rather than being fenced in by their ZIP code.”

Key Points

  • Texas state policy concerning open enrollment lacks transparency and fails to ensure student access.
  • Only 2.6% of Texas students attend schools in districts outside of their resident district. This percentage is noticeably lower than in states with more intentional open enrollment policies, likely because of low transparency, inconsistent transportation, tuition, and district-level policies.
  • Texas should increase transparency and accessibility of district transfer policies and tuition practices so that families can more easily know and access their options and policymakers have a clearer understanding of the barriers families face, including a comprehensive transportation policy.
  • Texas public education should reflect that fact by giving all families the opportunity to choose which school best fits their needs. Lines drawn on a map before today’s parents were even born should not fence in the futures of today’s students.

To read the full report, please go here