Proposed law would allow military families to enroll children in any Ohio district

Military students wouldn’t be tied to where they live; idea is a ‘priority’ for the Department of Defense, liaison says

A bill allowing military families to enroll in almost any Ohio public school, whether the family lives in the district, recently passed the Ohio Senate.

The proposed bill would require all Ohio public schools to have open enrollment for military families, with some exceptions. For example, the schools could decline enrollment if they already are at capacity.

“Military families are at a disadvantage when it comes to enrollment options available to their children, due to the timing of military directed moves,” said Shane Preston, Great Lakes Region Liaison for the U.S. Department of Defense, in written testimony. “Military families move frequently and change school systems upwards of 10 times prior to graduation.”

Ohio law gives public school districts three options for enrollment. The district can only allow students who reside in their districts to enroll; the district can allow enrollment from adjoining districts; or the district can allow anyone to enroll.

State Sen. Kristina Roegner, R-Hudson, is the primary sponsor of the bill. She said the bill was brought to her as a priority for the Department of Defense.

Roegner said the legislation would apply to districts that prohibit open enrollment or only accept open enrollment for neighboring districts. One or both of the student’s parents would need to be a member of the U.S. Armed Forces for the bill to apply.

To enroll, the students’ parents would have to provide a copy of the official written order verifying the parent’s status as an active-duty member. The school can’t charge the military families tuition under this exception.

“In Ohio we’re very good at expressing our gratitude for those who serve, and Senate Bill 208 is one more way that we can do this,” Roegner said.

The student also can be bused under Ohio law, in the same manner as “other district students.”

Ohio law says for an out-of-district student to receive busing, the parent has to request it, the district has to already be providing transportation to students in the same grade who live in the district and reside the same distance from school, and the district doesn’t have to add bus stops to accommodate the out-of-district student, unless the student is disabled.

Under those conditions, it may be difficult for a parent to get busing for their student if they live, for example, in Huber Heights and want to send their student to a Centerville public school.

Schools also can offer payment in lieu of transportation, but the bill’s fiscal note says it would have minimal impact to school’s finances.

State Sen. Catherine Ingram, D-Cincinnati, supported the bill but said she would like to see more open enrollment for all students. Ideally, she said, all schools would perform at a high level.

“Hopefully at some point, all of our schools will be good enough for students to go to anywhere where they move and live,” she said. “Because that’s what makes neighborhoods better, when people can go to school where they live.”

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