A new Oregon law meant to give more options to families is giving headaches to school boards. The law opens up school boundaries. It prohibits districts from stopping students who want to leave for another district.
But will districts allow additional kids to come in?
Rob Manning reports that's the big question school districts have to answer over the next month and a half.
The Lake Oswego School District has a long history of taking students from other districts. This school year, 76 students got their "home district" to approve a transfer and the requisite transfer of funding. About 60 more students were denied transfers by their home districts -- so their families are paying tuition for a Lake Oswego education.
That second part -- about a district denying a transfer -- has changed completely under Oregon's "open enrollment law."
"Across the state, if another district opens up, and our student wants to go there, we have no say," according to Lake Oswego superintendent, Bill Korach.
In addition to accepting students, his district lost about 65 students this year to other districts.
The law forcing districts to let students leave passed last year against the wishes of many school leaders, including Korach.
Local school boards still have some power: they get to decide whether students can come in.
John Wendland is Lake Oswego's board chair. He says there's a strong financial argument for accepting more students. Wendland says enrollment and funding have been flat in recent years – with expenses going up.
"Without growth in enrollment, you basically have more expenses than what your revenue is per-student. So, we look at adding students to increase revenue for the district, to help budgetary concerns," Wendland said.
Lake Oswego looked at scenarios that could yield a few hundred thousand dollars, if it worked out right.
The district can select which schools and grade levels it'll open up. It can even decide which districts to accept kids from. But it can't discriminate.
That means it can't prevent special needs students from coming, even though they can require very costly services.
"We love teaching kids, special education kids, especially, and we have some great programs. Our issue is that the state doesn't fund those special education kids correctly, and so that's where the rub is," Wendland says.
There are additional worries at larger school districts, like Portland Public and the Reynolds School District in East Multnomah County.
Reynolds spokeswoman Andrea Watson says the law requires any transfer slots to be open to the district's own students, first. She says if Reynolds students take those slots, it would create a domino effect where the schools left behind have capacity that the district can't fill.
"So it could just be one of those financial 'lose-loses' where we do get kids in the schools that they want to be in, but we end up having to shift staffing and resources to the schools of choice, which would make those schools with openings, shrinking and maybe struggling," Watson says.
District officials also see a risk in not opening up. Again, districts have control over how many students come in, but they can't stop them from leaving, if there's a place to go.
Andrea Watson says that's motivating Reynolds board members.
"Simply because if you don't participate, you only have the outflow, and so I think they're all just looking for creative ways – they talked about different ways we could maybe re-organize and restructure, in exciting and interesting ways."
Reynolds and Lake Oswego are among the districts hoping to start making decisions early next month.
Watson says board members are leaning toward opening up, but maybe just at the elementary or high school level.
Lake Oswego's board chair, John Wendland, says his district is discussing an even more targeted approach: opening up just Lakeridge High, and only for freshmen.
"We saw the transfer legislation as an opportunity to bring in kids from certain areas that might enhance the Lakeridge population, to bring it up a little bit," Wendland says.
By March 1st, districts need to settle on which schools and grade levels will accept students -- if any -- and which sending school districts they'll open up to.
The next deadline will be for families. They'll have to decide by April 1st if they want to sign up for an open slot outside their home district.
School districts that get more interest than openings have to run a lottery before May 1st, when they have to notify families.