WHITLEY COUNTY — A hot-button topic in the world of education in the state of Indiana is the school voucher program.

Some people see it as the right to make a choice in regards to what school a child attends. Others view the voucher program as the destruction of the public school.

One unintended outcome of the voucher program affects student athletes. As more and more schools employ an open-enrollment policy, athletes are no longer locked into playing for a home school.

Prior to the inception of open enrollment students had one choice. If they wanted to play football or basketball or any other sport they were forced to play for the school in the district in which they lived. Not anymore.

Each school district is free to determine if it will accept out of district transfers. As most school systems have seen a decline in enrollment, they are more accepting of students from outside their borders.

However, some schools still don’t allow outside enrollments. Northwest and Southwest Allen County Schools don’t accept any out-of-district transfers.

Columbia City High School athletic director Khelli Leitch explained that if an out-of-district student applies to attend at Columbia City, the student would fill out the IHSAA transfer forms.

“If we get a transfer in, we go through the proper protocol,” Leitch said. “We don’t have a substantial amount of them.”

The IHSAA then grants that student either full or partial participation eligibility. Part of that eligibility can be linked to whether or not the student’s school of origin contests the move. But contesting decisions isn’t something that happens very often either.

Whitko athletic director Josh Mohr feels as though there are some instances where contesting the move is detrimental to a student who just wants to participate in their sport. Mohr has had a few students transfer in to Whitko to play a variety of sports without issue.

“We allow kids wider choices of where to go. Kids aren’t locked in to their own school district anymore,” said Mohr.

The IHSAA processes more than 4,000 athletic transfer requests per year. Bobby Cox, with the IHSAA, said that number is up 200-300 from prior to the open enrollment policies being put in to place. Cox said the IHSAA is sympathetic to those parents who want their children to switch schools for academic reasons. But he also added they know that isn’t always going to be the case.

“Everybody knows there are transfers where a kid can’t make the team at the school they are leaving,” said Cox.

What Cox cautioned about is going too far towards giving transfer students a free pass towards participating in athletics if it comes at the expense of other students. A number of students at every school have participated in a sport for years. Now, with open enrollment, a transfer student could arrive and take the place of an athlete who has been a part of a program since grade school.

“At what point do we start protecting the rights of the kids who did it correctly?” Cox asks.

That is the challenge facing athletic directors and school corporations. How many students are let in and at what cost to the current student athletes? Leitch said they don’t discuss athletic transfers too much at Whitley County Consolidated Schools because it hasn’t presented any issues. But just like the voucher program, it only takes one bad experience for a school district to decide they no longer want to accept out-of-district transfers.