Mishawaka schools may end open enrollment

A program that is popular with Indiana parents and students may be in for changes that are unpopular with some school administrators.

It’s the program that allows a student who lives in one school district to attend another at no cost.

The local list of school districts that participate in open enrollment includes South Bend, Penn Harris Madison, and Mishawaka.

In Mishawaka, for example, some 300 students who live outside the corporate boundaries are now enrolled. Another 50 applied, but were rejected.

“We want students you know C, C-plus, B average like I said, no discipline issues, no major infractions, good attendance patterns those types of things,” said Mishawaka School Superintendent Dr. Terry Barker.

A bill moving through the Indiana General Assembly would allow just one reason for a district to refuse a transfer student in the future—that being—a lack of physical space. If the demand for seats was greater than the supply, a lottery would have to be held.

“What they're doing is they are actively recruiting the best and brightest out of other schools, to get them into their classrooms because they know it will drive their test scores up they'll get more funding out of it in the process they're hurting the schools that are struggling already,” said Ind. Sen. Carlin Yoder, (R) Middlebury.

The student transfer bill (H.B. 1381) passed through the Indiana House of Representatives by a vote of 85 to 11 last month. It is now pending in the senate.

“If they do that, then, like I said once again, it just, it really does restrict the corporation and we may very well have to look at no, we will close our open enrollment and only educate those children who are living within the boundaries of School City of Mishawaka,” said Dr. Barker.

Dr. Barker says that Mishawaka has established a certain level of excellence in its schools, and that it should be able to build on that.

Dr. Barker contends that enrolling students who don’t blend in would be a disservice to students who live within the corporation boundaries.

The law already requires Indiana charter schools to accept all applicants—although private schools are free to pick and choose between candidates.

While a public school system must accept any student that lives within its boundaries, Dr. Barker feels transfer students are different.

“We’re talking high stakes accountability that has been placed on the shoulders of public schools and we need to be able to address that having a certain level of enrollment qualifications or criteria that says if we’re going to accept students who are going to come to us and be able to blend with the students that we already have in place.”

Sen. Yoder couldn’t disagree more. “It is a fairness issue, I hear from superintendents all the time that they want to educate all students that they can handle, any student that's out there, then why would they close their doors to certain aspects of student and only open their doors to the best and the brightest?”

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