The Los Angeles Unified School District launched its open-enrollment program in 1994 when many city schools were underenrolled.
LAUSD officials considered it a way to give parents a choice and to fill seats in schools in neighborhoods with low school-age populations.
During the program's first year, nearly 22,000 open-enrollment seats were offered. Only 7,400 seats were made available to students for the 1998-99 school year.
District officials attribute the decline in open-enrollment seats to the state's class-size reduction initiative in grades K-3, changing demographics and a growing number of students leaving private campuses for public schools. Open-enrollment seats are limited because schools must serve students within their local boundaries before they can make spots available for those from other neighborhoods.
KARIMA A. HAYNES asked two district principals to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of open enrollment.
WARREN MASON / Principal, John F. Kennedy High School, Granada Hills
Open enrollment gives kids a chance to go to the school where they really want to go. Most educators believe that if kids are happy they will do better academically.
I think students are drawn [to Kennedy High School] because we are on a traditional calendar, we have air-conditioning, we have good students and we have a good teaching staff.
Our open-enrollment period used to run from May to September, but we knew we would only have 100 seats this coming year, so we cut it off after we got 143 applications. We wanted to give students a better chance of getting in.
In 1996-97, we took in 500 students through open enrollment; in 1997-98 we took in 200 students, and in 1998-99 we will take in about 100 students.
I think that eventually school enrollments will balance out. For example, we are getting short on seats. In two or three years, we won't have open enrollment because you won't have the available seats any longer. They are not going to build schools fast enough to keep pace with population.
Open enrollment was a way to bring kids to schools that had empty seats without any type of relocation by the district.
LAUSD students have quite a bit of choice in where they go to school [with] open enrollment, magnet schools and academies. They may not get their first choice, but they may get their second or third choice.
Open enrollment is causing schools to be more competitive because they have to offer programs that can appeal to students.
A drawback is the lack of district transportation. We have a lot of kids who really want to come here but they don't have transportation. We have 2,785 students and 20% of them came on open enrollment. We draw students from all over the Valley. They rely on parents, carpools and the MTA.
Each parent and student has a different situation. In some cases, open enrollment is a good option. In other cases, it is not a good option. I don't think one [program] can fit all kids.
NATALIE MESSINGER / Principal, Castlebay Lane Elementary School, Northridge
We no longer have open enrollment here because we have a lot of new homes being built in a nearby development and we need to accommodate our local people.
About three to four years ago, we took in 90 to 100 students on open enrollment. That number has dwindled to zero because of the new families moving into the neighborhood.
I think parents want to send their children here because the school is in a very safe neighborhood, we have nice test scores, wonderful kids and wonderful teachers. Schools with those qualities will always be a big factor for parents and children.
Open enrollment gives parents an opportunity to look for schools they want their children to go to and have a good chance of getting them in. There is a drawback. When people come from far away, there can be a tardiness and absenteeism problem. Students must find their own transportation.
When parents call to ask about open enrollment I tell them that I am awfully sorry, but I have to accommodate our neighborhood children.
When we went to the 20-to-1 teaching ratio, we had to put in four bungalows. Open enrollment is a great program, but if you don't have the room, you don't have the room.