By Kelli Stopczynski (email@example.com)
5:43 PM EDT, October 15, 2012
OSCEOLA – Penn-Harris-Madison school administrators say it's the reason they haven't had to cut jobs or close down a school – Open Enrollment, Indiana’s school of choice law, essentially saved the corporation millions of dollars.
P-H-M’s research began in 2004 when the corporation hired a South Carolina-based researcher to figure out how demographics might impact student enrollment. That researcher, Dr. Jerry McKibbens, accurately predicted P-H-M enrollment would be down about 600 students by 2012 because aging empty nesters who raised kids in the district and sent them off to college are still living in the same homes and not enough young families are moving in.
It matters because the number of students in a school district determines how much money that district receives from the state.
McKibbens’ research says about 1/3 of the 640 students currently attending PHM schools through open enrollment came from South Bend School Community Corporation, 1/3 from area private schools and 1/3 from Mishawaka and Elkhart and St. Joseph Counties.
“The better the schools, the better the reputation of the schools, the more of a draw that can be,” he said.
PHM schools are known for strong academics – many of its schools rank among the top in the state. McKibben said a lot of the private school transfers come from parents who can’t afford tuition. However, he pointed out that’s not the only factor.
“One is preference, economy is definitely a big factor,” he said. “We’ve seen private school enrollment in a slight decline over the last 5 years. Not only in Indiana, but all over the country.”
The 650 open enrolled students at PHM mean an extra $3 million a year for the corporation. Aside from the cost of driving their kids to and from school every day, open enrollment parents don’t have to pay anything other than the traditional textbook fees every other parent pays, Thacker explained.
About 400 of the open enrolled students are in the corporation’s elementary schools, he added, and a lot of them start in kindergarten.
South Bend Community Schools spokeswoman Sue Coney said their corporation has no way to track why students leave – whether they go to another public school, move out of district or take advantage of Indiana's new voucher program.
The voucher system uses taxpayer dollars to send kids to private school. McKibbens said he believes the open enrollment policy will have a much larger and long range impact on enrollment trends throughout the state than the voucher program will.
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