After a one-year pilot in four communities an open enrollment program for elementary schools is being expanded to an additional 12 cities around the country starting in the 2013-2014 school year. The Controlled Parental Choice project allows families to register children entering first grade in any elementary school in the city, rather than being limited to a specific catchment area. Registration for the 2013-2014 school year begins now.

Eleven cities − Rishon Letzion, Ra’anana, Yavneh, Petah Tikva, Bat Yam, Netanya, Kiryat Tivon, Acre, Afula, Kiryat Shmona and Beit She’an − will join the communities participating in the pilot program, which began this year: Arad, Isfiya, Ramat Gan and Mevasseret Zion.

The decision to expand the project was made despite Education Ministry figures indicating that only 20 percent of students enrolled in schools outside their district.

“Overall, mobility doesn’t exceed 20 percent, so in that sense we crossed the bar,” says Ganit Weinstein, director of the ministry’s experimental schools division. “The fact is that students made a choice. Even if the choice was to stay in the district school it’s still a choice, and therefore all children exercised their right to choose. Places are no longer automatically reserved at one’s neighborhood school.”

Unlike previous changes introduced by the Ministry of Education, the open-choice program focuses on insuring that schools can meet the different needs of different children. In the past educators have warned that the changes are cosmetic and are ignoring educational goals.

The ministry gave the participating local governments freedom to operate the registration process as they saw fit. School admission criteria is set by the municipal education department together with parent representatives and educational consultants. These can include the date of registration, older sibling attendance and the distance between home and school, as well as socioeconomic factors. These educational directorates are also free to decide whether enrollment will be open throughout the entire municipal jurisdiction, or only within smaller districts within the city.

According to ministry figures more than 85 percent of school principals in the pilot cities support the program and want it to continue. In addition, the ministry noted that more than 90 percent of the participating children were admitted to their first-choice school.

In the 2013-2014 school year a total of 100 schools will participate in Controlled Parental Choice. In 2014-2015 the program is slated to include 300 schools in the participating communities.