Study: Open enrollment causing segregation

‘White flight’ occurring in racially diverse districts

By Lisa Kaczke – Sun CURRENT Newspapers

Open enrollment caused some Twin Cities school districts to become more segregated than integrated in the decade following 2000, a new study found.

Parents use open enrollment to have their children attend the best school districts, which are usually predominately white, have the most tax base and resources, and have lower poverty levels, said study co-author Myron Orfield, director of the Institute of Metropolitan Opportunity at the University of Minnesota Law School.

Many students who participate in open enrollment are more wealthy because they often need a car to provide their own transportation to and from school, Orfield said.

Columbia Heights is one of the communities cited in the study as seeing a significant number of students leave the district through open enrollment. (Graphic courtesy of Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, University of Minnesota Law School)
Columbia Heights is one of the communities cited in the study as seeing a significant number of students leave the district through open enrollment. Click image to enlarge. (Graphic courtesy of Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, University of Minnesota Law School)

Of the open enrollment moves made in the 69 metro-area school districts from 2000 to 2010, segregative moves increased from 23 percent to 36 percent, while integrative moves had a smaller increase from 16 percent to 24 percent, according to the report released on Jan. 11. The rest of the moves between school districts were categorized as “race neutral.”

Some, like the Wayzata and Mounds View school districts, lose the same racial balance of students as it receives. Others, like the Minnetonka and St. Anthony-New Brighton school districts, are destinations of “white flight,” which then increases the racial diversity of the school districts the students are leaving, such as Columbia Heights.

The busing program named The Choice Is Yours also affects the racial diversity in the nine participating school districts. The program is the 2001 settlement of a lawsuit between the state of Minnesota and the NAACP. The program provides transportation to nine suburban school districts for Minneapolis students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Hopkins Supt. John Schultz said the only way to know why parents choose open enrollment is to survey them because each child is different. In Minnesota, the policy is that parents have the choice for their child’s school, he said.

Michael Schwartz, Richfield School District business manager, said although white flight could play a role for some parents, there’s a variety of reasons why parents choose to open enroll.

“Sometimes families are looking for a better fit,” he said.

Families also have more options that would cause a family to open enroll into a specific school district as districts add charter schools, language immersion schools, and specialized schools that focus on science, technology and math, he said.

“There are choices out there for parents. …And I think districts have been moving this way over a number of years looking at their programs they offer as a marketing tool,” he said.

The open enrollment application doesn’t ask for a student’s race. Edina Supt. Ric Dressen points out that school district administrations don’t have any control over the race of the students attending the district through open enrollment. It’s purely a system of placing students who have filled out the paperwork correctly into districts through a lottery system, he said.

Orfield and co-author Thomas Luce Jr. suggest the solution is more monitoring of open enrollment and more cooperation between districts to balance out the racial disparities between them. They also suggest changing funding formulas to send funds more efficiently to schools that are doing the most to integrate their classrooms and also expand the use of multi-district integration districts.

“Open enrollment is made to level the playing field and it isn’t,” Orfield said.

Minnetonka Supt. Dennis Peterson pointed out that open enrollment opens up the possibility of more competition, which has caused school districts to improve their offerings, he said.

Orfield suggests school district staff consider the racial make up of the district and recruit students to balance it. They could also begin transportation programs to help students who don’t have cars outside the district reach the schools.

“It’s not a fair system if they only recruit kids with cars,” he said.

Richfield Supt. Robert Slotterback concluded, “I think it’s interesting the state made a great effort to get the schools integrated, then they turn around and made decisions that made the schools more segregated … and we’ve pointed that out to legislators.”

Local trends in open enrollment

Districts which gain the most students through open enrollment are gaining them because of white flight, according to the study.

Slotterback has no doubt that white flight is occurring. “I think that the school choice approach in Minnesota definitely contributes to resegregating the school districts,” he said.

In Richfield, 170 students leave the district for Edina and of those, 68 percent are white, according to the study.

Columbia Heights also was noted in the study as one of the suburban districts that lost the most students in 2009-10 to open enrollment. While Richfield’s net losses are less, it does show, percentage wise, the largest losses of white students in the region. Columbia Heights’ district went from 24 percent non-white and 33 percent poor students in 2000-01 to 65 percent non-white and 71 percent poor in 2009-10, the study said. At least partly as a result of these trends, the study concluded, the district’s net losses from open enrollment in 2009-10 amounted to 13 percent of enrollments, significant hits to any school district’s budget and operations. The district lost only six percent of enrollments to open enrollment in 2000-01.

In Columbia Heights, the largest parts of the recent losses were to Fridley (256 students, 59 percent white) and St. Anthony-New Brighton (SANB) (59 students, 85 percent white). Fridley, while relatively diverse, had a white student percentage 22 points higher than Columbia Heights in 2009-10, and SANB was 78 percent white, 43 points higher than Columbia Heights.

SANB was listed in the study as one of the districts with the greatest enrollment increases due to white flight open enrollment. White students represent 79 percent of students in the district. Other districts in this list include Minnetonka, Edina, Orono, and Fridley, among others.

SANB, the study says, relies more heavily on open enrollment to maintain its enrollment numbers than any other district in the region. Net open enrollments in the district increase total enrollments by more than 60 percent, and open enrollment relationships between neighboring Minneapolis and Columbia Heights school districts “are among the most troubling in the region,” the report says.

“Open enrollments into St. Anthony-New Brighton were 84 percent white, but came from districts that were just 46 percent white on average. St. Anthony-New Brighton actually became less diverse as a result of open enrollment – incoming students were more likely to be white than resident students. … Open enrollment flows from Minneapolis to St. Anthony-New Brighton are dramatically unbalanced. The district drew 329 students from Minneapolis in 2009-10, 85 percent of whom were white (compared to 28 percent of resident students). Similarly, the district drew 142 students from Columbia Heights, 85 percent of whom are white (compared to just 44 percent for Columbia Heights’ resident students),” the report says.

In considering Fridley, the report said the district uses open enrollment to create niches in the regional system of schools. Fridley has emphasized magnet programs in its schools – some developed in cooperation with the North Suburban Integration District. As a result, the schools draw diverse mixes of students from nearby districts.

As for the Mounds View School District, the open enrollment appears relatively race-neutral; mixes of incoming and outgoing students are roughly equivalent in races and track the composition of the districts that send and receive students fairly closely, the study said.



Andrew Wig and Sarah Peterson of Sun Newspapers contributed to this report. Contact Lisa Kaczke at [email protected], Andrew Wig at [email protected] and Sarah Peterson at [email protected]