Bill seeks study on future of open enrollment in Ohio
By Marc Kovac
A Democratic state lawmaker wants state education officials to thoroughly review of open enrollment to determine whether the policy should continue.
Sen. Tom Sawyer of Akron, D-28th, said he offered legislation on the topic because of the case of Kelley Williams-Bolar, the Akron single mother who was convicted after purposely enrolling her daughters in the wrong school district.
“The open enrollment policy in Ohio allows a student from one district to enroll in another,” Sawyer recently told the Senate Education Committee. “It is a policy that has been going on for 22 years with little examination, at least for its academic, economic and social consequences to our local school districts and the state.”
Through open enrollment, districts allow students to transfer into their schools, receiving state payments for those students in the process.
Under Sawyer’s Senate Bill 220, the Ohio Department of Education would be required to study the policy and offer recommendations for improving the system.
The legislation also would repeal open enrollment as of mid-2015, though it leaves the door open for lawmakers to renew the policy after the statewide study is completed.
“There have only been two reports on open enrollment, issued in the early ‘90s, but no state-level research has ever been conducted on the true impact of open enrollment on equity, school funding or academic achievement,” Sawyer said. “This piece of legislation would require the open-enrollment policy to be analyzed and measured in regards to academic, social and economic standards.”
Williams-Bolar, one of Sawyer’s constituents, was convicted on felony charges, spent about 10 days in jail and was placed on probation for falsifying residency records after it was discovered that she purposely enrolled her children in the wrong school district.
The case became a rallying cry for civil-rights advocates and opponents of Ohio’s method for funding public education and the disparities that exist between inner-city and suburban schools.
During a clemency hearing in July, Williams-Bolar downplayed the racial issues, saying she enrolled her children in the Copley-Fairlawn City School District for safety reasons following a break-in at her home.
But prosecutors said the enrollment was just one in a series of deceptive acts by Williams-Bolar. They said the Akron mom was uncooperative during the investigation of the incident and did not take full responsibility for breaking the law.
Gov. John Kasich later granted clemency in the case, reducing her convictions to misdemeanors but leaving in place the resulting penalties and community-control sanctions.