YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Spring is the time of year when school districts in Ohio can decide whether they want to offer open enrollment for the next school year. A list is compiled, and the Ohio Department of Education posts it online.

Jacob Saum has been using open enrollment for his children for years. He said the decision to send his kids out of the district where he lives to Brookfield was an easy one. His oldest child attended daycare in Brookfield, he works in the district, and his house sits literally on the border with Hubbard Schools. Saum lives in Masury but within the Hubbard School District. Sending his kids to Brookfield just made sense.

“I thought about it from a social standpoint of our children thriving with their friends that they had already made and with the people that I know through Brookfield,” he said.

Saum said the process was easy when he enrolled his son, but he did all the footwork with the paperwork back then. Now, with electronic forms, the process was even easier with his daughter.

“Get paperwork signed from the home school district, which is Hubbard, and make sure all the paperwork got to Brookfield,” Saum said. “Both school districts made it easy. There was no ill will that we weren’t sending our children to Hubbard, and Brookfield made it easy and they were welcoming to our kids.”

A teacher we talked to said that she open enrolled her daughter in the district where she worked, not where she lived, but ended up sending her daughter back to her home district. She said it became more difficult as her daughter made friends in the neighborhood but then left for another school district different from where her friends attended.

This school year, a new formula for the amount of state funding a district receives went into effect. Often called the Fair School Funding Formula, the measure is now in year two of a six-year rollout.

Public school districts use a combination of state funds, local property taxes (and in some cases income taxes) and federal funds. Districts receive more or less money based on the wealth of the district. The state is working to “level up” poorer districts to create a more even playing field.

While leveling out the state dollars is not a novel approach, the new funding formula takes that idea and puts it through some new calculations, creating extra aid for targeted assistance (special education, English learners, gifted, etc.) direct funding and addresses transportation. It also takes private school and charter school students out of the district numbers so money does not have to be transferred to their school of attendance. The new model funds students where they are educated, rather than where they live.

Talk to most educators and they will tell you that Ohio’s school funding system, even with the new plan, is convoluted, and waiting in the wings is the Backpack Bill (House Bill 11) which has every dollar follow the student wherever they go — public or private. Imagine that all funds are put into students’ backpacks and they take that money to whatever school they choose. That includes homeschooled students, too. It’s different than Ohio’s voucher program, which only applies to students whose parents make under 250% of the federal poverty line.

Where are Ohio's Students
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The Backpack bill is in committee, but however students are being permitted to leave their home districts for schooling, making that choice for some is not as easy as it was Saum.

The funding approach is still at the mercy of the budgetary process in the state and open enrollment plays a role. Just recently, the Senate Finance Committee released a substitute for House Bill 33, which sets the state’s biennial budget. The Ohio Federation of Teachers says changes could threaten the long-term funding for public schools.

“The bill would make every Ohio family eligible for some amount of private school vouchers, regardless of their ability to pay for private schools or the quality of their local public schools. Paying private school tuition for wealthy families is not a good use of our education dollars, especially when the state is still trying to accomplish the full and fair public school funding that is required by Ohio’s constitution,” the organization wrote this week in a prepared statement.

There are five Valley schools that have chosen to not open enroll at all and one that will only take students from adjacent districts. They are included in the list below (Source: 2022 Ohio Department of Education):

  • Austintown Local Schools – Open to any district
  • Bloomfield-Mespo – Open to any district
  • Boardman Local – No open enrollment
  • Brookfield Local – Open to any district
  • Campbell City – No open enrollment
  • Canfield Local – No open enrollment
  • Champion Local – Open to adjacent districts only
  • Columbiana Exempted Village – Open to any district
  • Crestview Local – Open to any district
  • East Palestine City – Open to any district
  • Girard City – Open to any district
  • Howland Local – Open to any district
  • Hubbard Exempted Village – Open to any district
  • Jackson-Milton – Open to any district
  • Lakeview Local – Open to any district
  • Leetonia Exempted Village – Open to any district
  • Liberty Local – Open to any district
  • Lisbon Exempted Village – Open to any district
  • Lordstown Local – Open to any district
  • Lowellville Local – Open to any district
  • Mathews Local – Open to any district
  • McDonald Local – Open to any district
  • Newton Falls Exempted Village – Open to any district
  • Niles City – Open to any district
  • Poland Local – No open enrollment
  • Salem City – Open to any district
  • Sebring Local – No open enrollment
  • Struthers City – Open to any district
  • United Local – Open to any district
  • Warren City – Open to any district
  • Wellsville Local – Open to any district
  • West Branch Local – Open to any district
  • Western Reserve Local – Open to any district
  • Youngstown City – Open to any district

Boardman Local Schools is one of the largest districts in the Valley and does not provide open enrollment. Superintendent Tim Saxton said the district’s focus is serving the families of Boardman.

“Boardman provides an excellent education. I’ll put education at Boardman Schools up against any district. If people want to choose to go elsewhere, that’s their choice. People can choose, but for funding for local tax dollars, that should stay here, and the Fair School Funding Formula keeps it there. I don’t really want to take someone else’s tax dollars or state funding. I want to educate the kids in Boardman. I don’t see Boardman going to open enrollment,” Saxton said.

Boardman still gets students out of the district who are willing to pay tuition. The formula to determine that comes from the state. It typically takes the district’s costs divided by the number of students. This year that number was $9,860 per year. Three students are paying tuition.

“We’ve seen parents come here for swimming. I’ve seen parents pay tuition to come here because they wanted to be in our orchestra because many places don’t have an orchestra and they have a very talented musician. And I’ve seen parents pay tuition to be here because of academics, our AP and our advanced classes. And drama. We put on some phenomenal drama productions, and I’ve seen people whose children really want to almost major in drama performance with our performing arts center and the number of productions that we do,” Saxton said. “People see it as prepayment for college tuition and there could be some scholarships there.”

Average Private School Tuition in Ohio
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Saxton says he’s seen tuition-paying students come from Poland, Canfield and Columbiana.

Having the choice is what parents say is desirable when deciding what works best for a family. And while still not perfect, the state is working to adjust funding so that making that choice does not adversely impact a home district or unfairly bolster another. It’s a work in progress.

“Both of our children have excelled at Brookfield School. I know people who work in the Brookfield School District and that was one of the deciding factors that they go to Brookfield,” Saum said. “I don’t know anyone I wouldn’t recommend open enrollment to.”

Brookfield Schools has already closed its open enrollment for the 2023-2024 year. New applications will be accepted next year. Check your local district for the status of its open enrollment policy and timeline.

Chelsea Simeon contributed to this report.