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NO. 150. AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC SCHOOL CHOICE IN GRADES 9-12.

(S.203)

It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:

Sec. 1. PURPOSE

The purpose of the act is to establish public high school choice as a way to expand educational opportunities for students while continuing to improve public schools through education reform and maintaining the quality of educational services. It is also the purpose of this act to establish school choice in a way that enables school districts to craft a system that works best for their communities. Therefore, it is the intent of the general assembly that each participating school district shall determine a way to provide choice to its students, and that the department of education and the general assembly shall carefully monitor the outcomes for students, parents and schools in order to gather information that may facilitate increased public school choice in the future.

Sec. 2. ESTABLISHMENT OF PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL CHOICE REGIONS

(a) This section applies to a high school district which maintains a high school.

(b) In this section, “high school” means a school or that portion of a school which offers grades 9, 10, 11 or 12; “high school district” refers to a school district which maintains a high school; and wherever the context so indicates, “student” refers to the student if the student is not a minor, and to the student’s parent or guardian if the student is a minor or under guardianship.

(c) If a school district board determines that participation in a public high school choice region would adversely affect students in its high school, it may petition the commissioner for an exemption. The commissioner’s decision shall be final.

(d) On or before September 1, 2001, each high school district shall enter into an agreement with at least one other high school district to establish a public high school choice region. A high school district may belong to more than one public high school choice region. On or before October 15, 2001, the commissioner of education shall assign any high school district which has not entered into an agreement by September 1 to a region or regions, and the assigned school shall comply with the terms and conditions of the agreement entered into by the districts in that region. A decision of the commissioner shall be final.

(e) Beginning on July 1, 2002, a student may choose to attend any public high school within the public high school choice region of residence subject to the constraints of this section.

(f) Unless all the school district boards within the public high school choice region have agreed to a different arrangement, the high school boards within a public high school choice region shall not charge or pay tuition or other costs, except as provided in this subsection, for a student who transfers under this section. However, the sending district shall pay special education or technical education costs pursuant to the provisions of Title 16.

(g) If a student who is eligible for and receiving special education services chooses to enroll in a school district other than the district of residence under this subsection, the receiving school district shall carry out the individualized education plan, including placement, developed by the sending district. If the receiving district thinks that a student not on an individualized education plan may be eligible for special education services or that an existing individualized education plan should be altered, it shall notify the sending district. When a sending district considers eligibility, development of an individualized education plan or changes to a plan, it shall give notice of meetings to the receiving district and provide an opportunity for representatives of the district to attend the meetings and participate in the decision-making.

(h) For school year 2002-2003, a high school board may refuse to allow more than three percent of the students enrolled or six students, whichever is fewer, to transfer from one school to another school under this section in one year. Following school year 2002-2003, a high school board may refuse to allow more than five percent of the students enrolled or 10 students, whichever is fewer, to transfer from one school to another school under this section in one year.

(i) Prior to accepting applications under this section, each public high school district board in a choice region shall define its capacity to accept students and shall annually review and redefine its capacity limits. The commissioner shall develop guidelines for consideration by the boards when they define capacity limits. Guidelines may include limits based on the capacity of the program, class, grade, school building or measurable adverse financial impact.

(j) If more than the allowable number of students wishes to transfer to or from a school under this section, the board shall devise a nondiscriminatory lottery system for determining which students may transfer.

(k) A school is not required to provide services to a student during a period of suspension or expulsion imposed in another school district.

(l) An enrolled nonresident student shall be permitted to remain enrolled in the nonresident high school without renewed applications in subsequent years unless one of the following occurs:

(1) The student graduates.

(2) The student is no longer a Vermont resident.

(3) The student is expelled from school in accordance with adopted school policy.

(m) The superintendents of schools in school districts in a public high school choice region shall establish a clearinghouse for families needing information about transportation options that will help them to exercise school choice.

(n) The state board of education may adopt rules as necessary to implement this section.

(o) Unless the districts in a choice region agree to different procedures, the procedures for applying for entry into a district in the choice region shall be as follows:

(1) Acceptance of applications through March 1 of the school year preceding the school year for which the student is applying.

(2) Notification to the student of acceptance or rejection of the application by April 1 of the school year preceding the school year for which the student is applying.

(3) A requirement that the student notify the sending and receiving schools of a decision to enter the receiving school district by April 15 of the school year preceding the school year for which the student has applied. Following notification, the student may enter a school other than the receiving school only if the student, receiving school, and the school to which the student wishes to transfer agree. However, if the student becomes a resident of a different school district, the student may enroll in the school of the new district of residence at the time of the move.

(4) If a student notifies the school of residence by July 15 of the intent to return to that school the following school year, a student enrolled in a public high school in a receiving district shall be permitted to return to the public high school in the district of residence without acquiring agreement of the receiving district and the sending district.

Sec. 3. DUTIES OF THE COMMISSIONER OF EDUCATION

(a) The commissioner, upon request of two or more school boards, shall provide technical assistance in developing a public high school choice agreement.

(b) Annually, on or before January 15, the commissioner shall report to the senate and house committees on education on the implementation of this act.

(1) The January 2005 report shall include:

(A) recommendations for equitable financial arrangements between school districts in a public school choice region that would not adversely affect any district;

(B) a recommendation concerning whether due to economies of scale, average daily membership weights should be added or subtracted as student enrollment numbers change;

(C) a recommendation as to how a school district which designates a high school might be included in a choice region;

(D) an evaluation of whether the quality of educational services has been maintained, the impact of expanded educational opportunities on students, and recommendations regarding continuation of public school choice; and

(E) an examination of whether public school choice should be increased and extended beyond regional limits for grades 9-12, and extended to middle or junior high schools and to elementary schools.

(2) In order to gather information for these annual reports, the commissioner shall develop and send to each public high school board which belongs to a public school choice region, a form which requests specified information at a specific time. Examples of information the commissioner may gather include:

(A) Whether transportation needs presented a barrier to choice.

(B) How many pupils exercised choice and how many pupils wished to exercise choice but were unable to do so.

(C) Reasons why students and parents made choice decisions.

(D) How choice has affected the stratification of student populations with respect to social and economic factors.

(E) How satisfied were those students who chose to attend a different school and those who remained in the assigned school.

(F) How satisfied were parents, teachers, administrators and board members with the choice system in their regions.

(G) Whether special education students and other students with special needs are receiving equal access to choice and whether their needs were accommodated.

(H) The effect of the system on access to technical centers and transition to work programs.

(I) Whether the quality of education is improving, decreasing or unaffected in districts experiencing a net loss of students under the choice system.

(J) Whether the choice system is affecting support for local school budgets.

(K) Whether the choice system is affecting the amount of parental involvement.

(L) How the system has affected small schools.

(M) The structures of the different regional choice collaboratives.

(N) Whether there are any unintended outcomes.

(O) The extent to which the implementation of this act adds administrative costs to school districts.

(c) The commissioner shall provide information to the school superintendents about effective strategies for solving transportation problems that may arise as the superintendents implement the clearinghouse provisions of Sec. 2, subsection (m) of this act.

Sec. 4. REPEAL

This act is repealed on July 1, 2007.

Approved: May 24, 2000