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Public school ban on tuition for transfers raising questions: Can sports recruiting be far behind?

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The days of Indiana schools charging tuition to transfer students will soon be over, but it remains to be seen what role local school systems will have when deciding just who, and how many, non-resident students will get to come to their school.

Duneland Superintendent Dirk Baer said schools that accept transfer students are being urged by the Indiana School Board Association to develop specific criteria outlining their policy.

“You can’t just arbitrarily say ‘we’re going to take only the basketball players,’” Baer said.

The change affecting non-resident students was prompted by Indiana’s major new tax law, H.E.A. 1001, which calls for the state to assume the school general fund expenses that are now paid for by local property taxes. At Duneland, the per pupil cost breaks down to $6,368 paid for by local property taxes, with another $2,268 coming from the state. In an effort to cut local property taxes, the state will now assume the full student costs.

As a result, schools will no longer be able to charge the transfer students tuition as they currently do.

According to State Senator Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, the new law doesn’t specifically prohibit schools from accepting transfer students nor does it require schools to accept them. But one unintended consequence of the law is that there is no longer a mechanism for schools to collect local tuition.

“Everybody has just come to this realization and no one knows what to do,” she said.

In July, the Duneland School Board accepted a recommendation from Baer to continue a freeze, imposed in the middle of the last school year, on new transfer students. The only non-resident students now at the Duneland Schools are the approximately 40 students who were already enrolled prior to this school year, along with any siblings.

Whether Duneland will be able to keep that policy intact -- or whether it must now accept all non-resident students who want to attend Duneland -- remains to be seen. All that is known at this point is that Duneland will have to stop collecting tuition from those families, though Baer said it’s unclear just when.

Baer said the issue represents another case of the state imposing a change without addressing the consequences. “The state does it again,” he said.

He said he hopes that schools retain some autonomy in deciding how many non-resident students to accept. Otherwise, he said, the move could result in an open enrollment at public schools.

Tallian agreed, but noted that there is speculation statewide that some schools will attempt to reject non-resident students if they have disciplinary problems or that they’ll accept students based on their placement tests, taking in only the higher achievers.

A recent Associated Press story on the subject said state lawmakers might address the issue in the next session by setting a uniform policy for all Indiana schools. Tallian, however, isn’t so sure. She said her hunch is that lawmakers will let local schools develop their own policies and won’t touch the subject -- until after problems arise.

Although the state will absorb the costs of school general funds, local property taxes will continue to pay for other school expenses, including capital costs. In Duneland, that would include paying off the bond for the $74 million Chesterton High School as well as any possible new school.

Clearing the way for non-resident students to come to Duneland without charge, and enjoy the amenities that their home schools might lack, might not sit well with local taxpayers.

Baer said that concern is exactly why Duneland has included in its non-resident tuition a capital fee that takes into account local taxes paid toward the new CHS. He said school officials only felt that it was fair that non-resident students share in that cost.

Tallian said the Department of Education is in the process of developing a new form that schools will use for transfer students. She said it’s her understanding that schools will still be able to charge the non-resident students a fee to offset their capital costs.

If state lawmakers do take up the subject, Tallian said she doubts lawmakers would clarify the matter by prohibiting schools from accepting non-resident students. But she also doesn’t see the other extreme of requiring schools to accept all non-resident students.

Often, she said, there are valid reasons for allowing students to attend a public school outside their home district. She cited as one example teachers who want their own children to attend the school in which they work. But she also said it would be “pretty chaotic” if every student in Indiana got to pick what school they want to attend, with no restrictions.

“There has to be some stability in our school districts,” she said.



Posted 9/9/2008




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