Open Enrollment Policies: State Profile

Open Enrollment Policies: State Profile - California

Last updated: October 2018

Open enrollment policies allow a student to transfer to a public school of his or her choice. There are two basic types of open enrollment policies.

  • Intradistrict: Students transfer to another school within their resident school district.
  • Interdistrict: Students transfer a school outside of their resident district.

Depending on the state, open-enrollment policies are mandatory, voluntary, or both. 

  • Mandatory policies require districts to participate in the program.
  • Voluntary policies allow districts to choose whether to participate in open enrollment, often allowing districts the discretion to enter into transfer agreements with other districts.
  • States with both mandatory and voluntary policies usually require mandatory open enrollment in low-performing schools or districts, in defined regions of the state or in other specific circumstances while allowing voluntary open enrollment in the rest of the state.

View the full open enrollment database here.  


Open Enrollment Survey 2018
Does the state have open enrollment programs?

Yes, voluntary intradistrict and interdistrict; mandatory intradistrict and interdistrict under the Open Enrollment Act for students attending low-performing schools and/or districts.

Voluntary: School district governing boards may decide to accept interdistrict transfers. Participating districts must register as a school district of choice, determine the number of students the district will accept, and accept transfers until the district is at maximum capacity. School districts must allow students from active-duty military families to transfer to another district if the receiving school district approves the transfer application. In addition, school districts may enter into interdistrict transfer agreements with other school districts for up to 5 years. Sending districts may limit transfers in the following circumstances:

  • Districts with more than 50,000 students may limit transfer to 1% of the current year estimated average daily attendance.
  • Districts with 50,000 students or less may limit transfers to 3% or 10% of current year estimated average daily attendance.
  • Districts with a negative status on their budget certification may limit the number of transfers.
  • If the district would not meet fiscal stability standards due to student transfers.

Mandatory: The State Superintendent of Public Instruction must create an annual list of 1,000 low-performing schools, and no more than 10% of a district's schools may be on the list. Parents of students in one of these schools may apply to transfer to higher performing school in the district or in another district. A receiving district may adopt standards for acceptance and rejection of applications, which may include program, class, grade level, building capacity, or adverse financial impact.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 46600, § 48300 to § 48317, § 48350 to § 48361

Do desegregation provisions impact open enrollment programs? Under both voluntary and mandatory provisions, sending or receiving districts may prohibit a transfer if it would negatively impact a court-ordered or voluntary desegregation plan or the racial and ethnic balance of the district, not including transfers for children of active-duty military personnel.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 48355, § 48307

Does the state set priorities for districts to follow when accepting students for open enrollment? Yes.

Voluntary: Receiving districts must give priority in the following order, but may not displace students residing in the district.
  • Siblings of students already attending the district.
  • Students eligible for free or reduced-price meals.
  • Children of military personnel.
A district may determine the number of transfers it is willing to accept and hold an enrollment lottery if the number of applications exceeds space. Receiving districts may not reject a transfer if the cost of educating the student exceeds state aid. Any receiving district may admit a student expelled from a sending district.

Mandatory: Receiving districts must give priority in the following order.
  • Siblings of students already attending the school.
  • Students transferring from a low-performing school with certain criteria.
Districts also give priority to students residing in the district. If the number of applicants exceeds space available, the school must conduct a lottery from the two priority groups until available spaces are filled.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 48301, § 48303, § 48304, § 48306, § 48356, § 46600

Who is responsible for student transportation? Upon the request of the parent, receiving districts may provide transportation assistance to the extent that the district otherwise provides transportation assistance to other students.

Citations: Cal. Educ. Code § 48311


© 2020 by the Education Commission of the States (ECS). All rights reserved. ECS is the only nationwide, nonpartisan interstate compact devoted to education. 700 Broadway #810, Denver, CO 80203-3442

To request permission to excerpt part of this publication, either in print or electronically, please contact the Education Commission of the States’ Communications Department at 303.299.3636 or mzatynski@ecs.org.

Your Education Policy Team  www.ecs.org