INDIANAPOLIS – Lawmakers focused on a new kind of cherry-picking Monday – public schools using criteria such as passage of state accountability tests when deciding whether to accept a transfer student.
For years there has been resentment over private schools being able to selectively choose students, and now the same debate has bled into public schools.
In this case school choice is only available to choice students, said Dawn McGrath, a school administrator in Kokomo. Its the way in which students are chosen that makes this different.
During the 2010-2011 school year, 12,000 students were attending public schools other than where they live. State education officials were not able to provide more recent transfer information Monday.
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. Districts dont have to worry about educating students whose families, through property taxes, arent helping support its schools.
Many 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 kids.
Several people testified at Mondays legislative education commission 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 kids with special education needs or a discipline history.
Katie Skeen, 18, of Anderson, talked about how she and her brother applied for transfers to South Madison Community Schools in 2010.
She said they were required to submit transcripts, disciplinary records and write essays.
The district accepted Skeen but not her brother because he was more academically challenged.
After begging for reconsideration he was admitted. Skeen later transferred back to Anderson, where she proudly said her school accepts all students – even those considered to be a headache.
Rick Muir, president of the Indiana Federation of Teachers, said the cherry-picking encourages and enables segregation as some districts wont take children who arent 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 wont take any if they have to take all.
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.
No school taking public tax dollars should be able to pick and choose, said Rep. Kevin Mahan, R-Hartford City.
The group is considering a number of issues for possible 2013 legislation. A final report will come later this year.