• Wisconsin’s Open Enrollment Changes
  • June 8, 2012
  • Law Firm: Boardman Clark LLP - Madison Office
  • In February 2012, Wisconsin enacted significant legislation, 2011 Wisconsin Act 114 (Act 114), relating to Wisconsin’s Open Enrollment Law (Wis. Stat. § 118.51).  The Open Enrollment Law allows parents to apply for their children to attend school in a school district other than the one in which they reside.  Any student in grades kindergarten to twelve may apply pursuant to the law to attend school in any public school district in the state.  Act 114 changes many of the timelines associated with the application process concerning open enrollment and introduces new standards for transfer in special circumstances.  This FYI will discuss some of the most significant changes to the law.

    Period for Filing Expanded.  As a result of the passage of Act 114, the period for filing an open enrollment application was expanded from three weeks to three months.  Specifically, instead of having to apply for open enrollment during a three week period in February, parents may now apply for open enrollment between the first Monday in February and the last weekday in April.  If the open enrollment application filed during the February through April time period is accepted by the non-resident school district, the student is then entitled to attend school in the non-resident district at the beginning of the subsequent school year, unless the resident district has objected because special education costs associated with the transfer of a special education student will present an undue burden on the resident district.  For special education students applying for open enrollment, resident school districts were required to send a copy of the student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) to the non-resident district by May 11, 2012.  By May 25, 2012, the non-resident district was required to provide to the resident district an estimate of the actual additional special education cost it expects to incur to provide the special education and related services required by the student’s IEP.

    Because of the expanded open enrollment application period, the dates by which school boards must act on open enrollment applications have also been modified.  For example, in 2013 and in subsequent years, school boards must designate the number of regular and special education spaces available for open enrollment applicants at the January board meeting.  In addition, non-resident districts may not act on open enrollment applications until May 1 (i.e., after the open enrollment period closes).

    There are several upcoming deadlines worth noting.  First, by June 8, 2012 (or in subsequent years on or before the first Friday following the first Monday in June following the receipt of the open enrollment application), non-resident districts must notify applicants in writing whether their applications have been approved or denied by the non-resident district and must notify accepted applicants of the specific school or program to which the applicant is assigned.  Second, by June 15, 2012 (or in subsequent years on or before the second Friday following the first Monday in June), resident districts must notify applicants in writing if their applications are denied by the resident district.  Finally, non-resident school districts have until July 7, 2012 (July 7 in subsequent years as well) to notify resident school districts of students planning to attend.  Under prior law, that date was June 30.  These and other critical deadlines are set out in a chart on DPI’s website, www.dpi.wi.gov, entitled “Important Dates for Public School Open Enrollment 2012-2013 School Year.”

    Changes to Application Procedures.  Aside from the revisions in timelines, the other important changes deal with the establishment of alternative open enrollment application procedures.  Under these alternative application procedures, a student can apply for open enrollment at any time if the parent is able to show that one of the seven criteria set forth in the statute applies.  (The parent applying for open enrollment to another school district during the regular application period does not have to state a reason for wanting the child to attend school in a non-resident school district.)  A student who fits within one of these exceptions is entitled to begin attending the non-resident school district as soon as the application has been approved by the non-resident school district.  Briefly, the exceptions apply in the following instances:  (1) the student has been the victim of a violent criminal offense occurring at the resident school district; (2) the student is or has been homeless in the current or immediately preceding school year; (3) the student has been the victim of repeated bullying or harassment that has not been resolved by the resident school district despite parent complaints; (4) the student’s parent or guardian has had a change in residence as a result of military orders; (5) the student has recently moved into Wisconsin; (6) the student’s place of residence has changed due to a court order, custody agreement, or foster care placement; or (7) the parent, and both the resident and non-resident school boards, agree that attending school in the non-resident school district is in the best interests of the pupil.

    A resident school district may deny a pupil’s application under any of these exceptions if it determines that the exception does not apply.  The resident school district can also deny a student’s application under the alternative procedures if the student is a special education student and the special education cost creates an undue financial burden on the resident district.  This ground for denial does not apply if the student qualifies for immediate open enrollment under the exception for victims of a violent crime.

    Under all of the exceptions, the non-resident district may deny the open enrollment application for the same reasons as it may deny an application under the regular application process that extends from February through April.  Specifically, the non-resident school district can deny the open enrollment application if (1) space is not available; (2) the student applicant has been expelled by any school district during the current or two preceding school years for certain specified reasons (not including repeated refusal or neglect to obey school rules); (3) the special education or related services described in the child’s IEP are not available in the non-resident school district; or (4) no space is available to provide the special education services, taking into account class size limits, pupil-teacher ratios, or enrollment projections established by the non-resident school board.

    Conclusion.  This newsletter highlights some of the significant changes to the Open Enrollment Law, but it does not discuss all of the changes that districts need to know about.  For an in-depth discussion of the changes brought about by Act 114, districts should be sure to consult the materials provided by the Department of Public Instruction that can be accessed at www.dpi.wi.gov/sms/oe&under;sb2.html.  In addition to the chart detailing all of the important open enrollment dates for the 2012-2013 school year referred to above, a document entitled “Initial Procedures for Implementing 2011 Wisconsin Act 114:  Exceptions to the Public School Open Enrollment Application Period” is particularly helpful and follows a question and answer format that deals with most of the issues that are likely to arise.