The Journal-Gazette reports that some Indiana school districts are engaging in “cherry picking” when it comes to admitting transfer students, using criteria such as passage of state accountability tests when deciding whether to accept a transfer student.
During the 2010-2011 school year, 12,000 students were attending public schools other than where they live. The practice has exploded in recent years, and is directly related to the state taking over operating costs for schools in 2009.
Because local property taxes no longer finance schools’ general funds, state money can follow the student. School districts do not have to worry about educating students whose families, through property taxes, are not helping support its schools.
A number of schools in the state now have tuition-free transfer policies, as long as the students are enrolled on count day in September. The state uses the enrollment number from count day to calculate funding for districts.
But a few years into the burgeoning phenomenon, it has been alleged that some public schools are choosing only to accept transfers of the best students. Several people testified at a legislative education committee meeting that numerous districts have criteria to grant a transfer. Some districts require a minimum grade point average and passage of the ISTEP+ test, and reject students with special education needs or a discipline history.
Rick Muir, president of the Indiana Federation of Teachers, said the “cherry-picking” encourages and enables segregation as some districts will not take children who are not fluent in English or have disabilities. He believes the policy is widening the gap between the “haves and the have-nots,” and that if legislators ban such criteria, “they won’t take any if they have to take all.” “No school taking public tax dollars should be able to pick and choose,” said Representative Kevin Mahan (R-Hartford City).
Lawmakers on the committee appeared to agree that local districts should have the power to decide whether to accept transfer students. This in part depends on whether a district has available space for students. But once a district opens its enrollment for transfers then the process should be equitable – either through a first-come or lottery system, several said. The committee is considering a number of issues for possible 2013 legislation. A final report will come later this year.
Source: The Journal-Gazette, 7/17/12, By Niki Kelly
[Editor's Note: According to Julie M. Slavens, Staff Attorney with the Indiana School Boards Association (ISBA), when the transfer legislation went into effect, the ISBA put out guidance to its school board members that it is permissible to use neutral criteria, i.e., space availability (which occurs for most districts), discipline history, in deciding which students to accept as transfers, but that criteria deemed discriminatory under federal and state law, such as disability status or English language proficiency level, are not permissible. Ms. Slavens also said that some school boards have chosen not to accept any transfers at all.
In June 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article in The Wall Street Journal, which reported about a study published by the federal Government Accountability Office finding that charter schools are not enrolling as high a proportion of special education students as traditional public schools, despite federal laws mandating that publicly financed schools run by private entities take almost every disabled student seeking to enroll. The GAO report is the first comprehensive study focused on charter schools’ enrollment of special needs students.
In the above article, "Count day" is the annual date when student enrollment numbers for each school district are submitted to the state department of education for funding calculation purposes.]