December 5, 2008
INTERDISTRICT MAGNET SCHOOL STUDENTS FROM NONPARTICIPATING DISTRICTS
By: Soncia Coleman, Associate Legislative Analyst
You asked for an explanation of how interdistrict magnet schools are funded. You also wanted to know if a school district that has elected not to participate in a magnet school must pay tuition for its students, including preschool-age children, who want to attend.
There are two kinds of magnet schools in the state: “host” magnets, which are operated by the school districts where they are located, and magnet schools operated by regional education service centers (RESCs). All interdistrict magnet schools are funded by a mixture of state and local funding. Some schools also receive federal and private funding and part-time arts magnets may also charge tuition to students' parents.
Generally, magnet schools operate under formal or informal agreements between participating towns. However, in 2007, a law was passed (1) allowing magnet schools with unused capacity to enroll students regardless of the terms or existence of a participation agreement and (2) requiring sending districts to pay tuition for those students. The State Department of Education's (SDE's) guidance for implementing this law can be found at http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/circ/circ07-08/C12.pdf.
MAGNET SCHOOL TUITION IN GENERAL
Interdistrict magnet schools may or may not charge sending districts tuition for each of their students who attend the school.
Host districts can often meet their magnet school operating costs entirely from the ECS grants they receive for their own students attending the schools, plus the state per-student magnet school operating grants. As a result, these host magnets may not charge tuition to participating districts sending students to the magnet. This tuition-free host magnet model was pioneered by New Haven and is currently also in effect at some magnet schools in Waterbury and Hartford.
Since RESCs do not receive ECS grants for students attending the magnet schools they operate, those schools typically charge tuition to districts sending students to them. For RESC-operated magnet schools, sending district tuition is a significant source of operating funds.
PARENT CHOICE LEGISLATION
Until 2007, districts were generally not required to pay magnet school tuition unless they elected to be a “participating district” and the payment was in accordance with their enrollment agreement. However, in 2007, the legislature passed laws opening enrollment in magnet schools and requiring sending districts to pay tuition. The legislature allowed interdistrict magnet schools that have unused student capacity after accommodating students from participating districts in accordance with their enrollment agreement, to enroll any interested student directly into its program. Students from nonparticipating districts had to be given preference.
A 2008 law (PA 08-170) specified that preference must instead be given to students from districts that are not participating in any interdistrict magnet schools or the Open Choice interdistrict student attendance program, to an extent determined by the education commissioner.
The law specifies that any board of education not participating in an interdistrict magnet school whose student attends the school on a space-available basis must contribute funds to support the school's operation in an amount equal to the per-student tuition, if any, the school charges participating districts.
The 2007 law set the tuition for students from nonparticipating districts at 75% of the difference between the magnet school's average per-pupil expenditure for the prior year and the state operating grant payable to the magnet school for the student. A 2008 law modifies this statutory tuition formula to require the consideration of any other revenue available to the school and applies it only to RESC-operated magnets schools and only for FY 09. It appears to set the formula as the minimum tuition that can be charged. It also limits the annual increase in the per-student tuition to no more than 10%.
If a school board fails to pay the tuition, the education commissioner can withhold ECS funds from the district, up to the amount of the unpaid tuition, and transfer it to the fiscal agent for the magnet school as a supplementary operating grant.
MAGNET PRESCHOOL PROGRAMS
The magnet school statute does not specifically address preschool. Pursuant to C.G.S. § 10-264l, "an interdistrict magnet school program means a program which (1) supports racial, ethnic and economic diversity, (2) offers a special and high quality curriculum, and (3) requires students who are enrolled to attend at least half-time. An interdistrict magnet school program does not include a regional vocational agriculture school, a regional vocational-technical school or a regional special education center." However, according to the SDE's 2008-09 school choice publication, about 16 magnet programs offer preschool programs. http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/equity/choice/choice0809_english.pdf. Additionally, SDE reports that 22 magnet schools will offer preschool programs for the 2009-10 school year.
EDUCATION COST SHARING FUNDS
Generally, school districts receive ECS grants for their students who attend interdistrict magnet schools. Students attending RESC-operated magnet schools are counted as attending school in their home districts with the RESC magnets receiving no ECS grants for any of the students who attend those schools. However, in 2007, the legislature changed how students attending interdistrict magnet schools are counted for purposes of calculating ECS grants for their home districts.
One key factor in the ECS formula is each district's count of resident students, weighted for educational and economic need. For FY 09, the 2007 law reduced this “need student” count by 25% of the number of full-time students from each town who attend interdistrict magnet schools that receive state magnet school operating grants. Although this change theoretically reduces grants for towns with students attending interdistrict magnet schools on a full-time basis, the same law also requires that every district receive an FY 09 ECS grant that is at least 4.4% more than its FY 08 grant, thus eliminating any impact from the reduction in the magnet school student count in FY 09.
PA 07-3, JSS, also required the State Department of Education, by October 1, 2007, to notify local school boards to anticipate that each district's need student count in FY 10 will be reduced by 50% of its students attending interdistrict magnet schools full-time. However, to actually implement such a reduction, the General Assembly must adopt additional statutory language.
Nonparticipating districts are not required to provide transportation to magnet schools unless the magnet school is in their town. However, should the district choose to provide transportation to out-of-town magnet schools, it is eligible for reimbursement under the normal state transportation grant.