Minnetonka school board caps enrollment, a case for expanded school choice

Since the late 1980s, Minnesota students and parents have been able to access schools that are not within their resident district. The state’s open enrollment program, championed by former Gov. Rudy Perpich, has grown steadily since its inception, and according to Minnesota Department of Education data, more than 83,000 students (9% of the state’s students) open enrolled in the 2018-2019 school year.

In Minnetonka’s public schools, more than 3,700 open-enrolled students (34% of the total student body) from 46 different school districts call the district home. But a recent unanimous vote by the Minnetonka School Board will freeze k-12 enrollment and affect the future number of students who can participate in the open enrollment process.

Per Minnesota Statutes, a school board may limit the enrollment of nonresident students in its schools. The Minnetonka school board decided to enforce the enrollment cap because of tension within the community regarding the district’s target enrollment and enrollment capacity. Around 200 to 250 students were turned away this year, and some grades were closed to open enrollment in certain schools, Superintendent Dennis Peterson told the Sun Sailor. He said the move “helps to ensure that class sizes do not grow too large.”

As evidenced by the number of families participating in open enrollment, there is an appetite for school choice in Minnesota, and it needs to be expanded. Open enrollment allows students to cross district lines and access other traditional school districts, but real school choice—that includes private and religious schools—is still limited. Minnesota needs to recognize these limitations and fix them so all our students can access the learning environment that best meets their needs.