Officials wont know about outgoing students until May

It’s round two of open enrollment for school districts across Washington County, the second year of a controversial law intended to allow students and parents a wider berth in terms of school choice.

HB 3681 was eyed warily by many of the larger school districts in Washington County last year as school boards mulled whether to allot spaces to out-of-district students.

Small rural districts like Gaston and Banks stand to gain students from the school choice law, while larger districts such as Hillsboro and Forest Grove worry that the draw of smaller class sizes in rural school districts will lure students — and money — away.

In western Washington County, Banks and Gaston received 48 and 65 requests, respectively, during the March open enrollment window for the upcoming 2013-14 school year.

The Forest Grove School District received four.

In Hillsboro, 21 students requested transfer into the district. All but six of those requests were at the high school level, according to district spokeswoman Beth Graser. That number is comparable to the current school year when Hillsboro lost 27 students and gained 24 due to open enrollment.

School districts won’t know until May, though, how many of their students have requested to leave.

“Due to agreements we have in place, I feel like HB 3681 has been a virtual wash for the Hillsboro School District,” Graser said.

Hillsboro has agreements with Beaverton, Forest Grove and Tigard-Tualatin school districts to not allow new transfers between the districts.

Hillsboro saw students transfer to Banks, Gaston, Newberg, Riverdale, Sherwood and West Linn-Wilsonville school districts this year.

Banks and Gaston both gained students in the first year of HB 3681, but exact numbers are somewhat murky because both districts already had students attending through traditional inter-district transfers.

“Every student is significant in a small rural school district for planning programs, staffing and revenue,” said Banks Superintendent Bob Huston.

With every student comes roughly $6,000 in state school funding. And that’s why both districts tried to spread the word about the advantages of attending a smaller district.

Both placed ads in local newspapers, and Gaston placed banners in town to remind passers-by of the open enrollment window.

At a minimum, HB 3681 has helped keep the Banks and Gaston enrollment numbers from the steady decline they’ve seen over the last five years.

The final outcome for districts — good or bad — will have to wait. No one will know for sure the net outcome of open enrollment until pupils show up on the first day of school in September.

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