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Mendota Heights Schools Gaining Students, Racial Diversity from Open Enrollment

A University of Minnesota Law School study says Mendota Heights is bucking a metro-wide trend and gaining more students from open enrollment than it loses, including among minority groups.

Open enrollment is giving a boost to the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan School District, according to a University of Minnesota Law School study.

Not only is District 197 gaining students—and state funding—but it's also becoming more racially diverse as a result, the study says.

Budgets Matter

The study, which looked at state-wide open enrollment during the 2009-10 school year, says West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan gained a total of 155 students to other school districts—mostly at the expense of St. Paul Public Schools. A total of 646 students left District 197, but 801 students came in. And the study says the numbers are relatively steady annually.

What's that mean in dollars? With state funding ranging from roughly $7,000 to $11,000 per student, those extra 155 students add significant padding to the district's budget.

A Boon for Racial Diversity?

While open enrollment led to decreased racial diversity in many nearby communities including Inver Grove Heights and Lakeville, the program has led to a small increase in non-white students in Mendota Heights.

During the 2009-10 school year, District 196 schools gained a net of 48 non-white students from open enrollment. A total of 338 non-white students left Lakeville's school district, but 386 students came in.

But increased diversity in Mendota Heights bucks a metro-wide trend, researchers say.

The study found that open enrollment increased segregation in the metro region overall between 2000 and 2010, with 36 percent of open enrollment classified as segregative in the 2009-10 school year. By contrast, just 24 percent were integrative. The rest were race neutral.

“Open enrollment allows parents a wider choice in matching a school’s programs to a child’s needs and creates clearer competition between schools that could encourage innovation or improvement,” the study reported. “Yet, open enrollment also enables moves based on less noble motivations that can accelerate racial or economic transition in a racially diverse school district.”

Click on the PDF to the right of this article to read the full report. Use the widget above to see the racial makeup of each district in Minnesota.

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