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Political Analysis: Open Enrollment in Loudoun County


By: Jack Minchew

In a largely unheralded move in an otherwise normal meeting earlier this month, the reform focused Loudoun County School Board adopted a radical new policy that could change the way that education in Loudoun works forever.

The name of this policy is open enrollment, and it draws its name from its principle of allowing students to attend any school they want. In recent years, it has been associated with failing school districts such as Washington D.C. and controversial figures such as ex D.C. Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, but beginning next school year, open enrollment is coming to Loudoun.
Current school policy allows for students to switch schools only if they apply for a special waiver directly from LCPS central administration. Common exceptions are granted in cases of parents who work at different schools or in cases of bullying or a student having trouble at their assigned school. The new policy, which is set to be implemented as soon as next school year, would allow for students to transfer to any school in the county that is under capacity, such as Heritage, Woodgrove, and Freedom High Schools, and Simpson and Smart’s Mill Middle Schools.
Students who already live in a certain school district would receive priority over students from another district when it comes to attending a certain school, so students who attended a school outside their district one year might be forced out the next by new students who have the first choice.
It remains to be seen whether this policy will be opposed by local teacher or parent groups, as it was passed with relatively little debate and public opposition. Advocates of the doctrine assert that allowing students and parents to choose which school is best for them will encourage lower achieving schools to become better while also providing students access to better schools. Opponents say that the plan unfairly targets poorer families that might not have the ability to provide personal transportation to schools outside of their assigned district.
Open enrollment policies are often centerpieces of larger school reform packages, and the current school board was elected on promises of sweeping school reform, including school choice for students. So far, new board policies have only gone as far cutting some school programs and threatening budget cuts, but some see this policy as the first in a wave of contemporary education reforms set to be instituted by the new board.

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