Web Extra: State’s answers to Frequently Asked Questions

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The Illinois State Board of Education provided the following list of answers to frequently asked questions about public-school choice under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Eligibility of Schools and Students

Which schools are required to offer school choice?

How can single-school districts offer choice?

If the lowest performing students can leave a school in school improvement status, is it possible that all students have the right to leave that school?

How many Illinois schools will be required to offer choice in the 2002-03 school year?

How should an eligible school identify and prioritize students for whom parents will be offered choice?

If a district has schools organized into clusters or zones, can a district restrict the choice options to higher performing schools within that cluster or zone?

Parent Notification

Does a school have the option to not notify parents of public school choice?

How long can a student stay in the “choice school?

How often can a parent transfer a child if the school they select does not meet expectations?

When do parents need to be notified of choice and what are the districts responsibilities for notice?

Funding and Transportation

What happens to ADA, Title 1 and other funding if parents choose to transfer to a higher performing school in another district?

Who is responsible for paying student registration fees when a student transfer to a “choice school”?

How far does a school that is required to offer choice have to transport children?

If you have to offer out of district choice, does the district pay for transportation?

What modes of transportation can be paid or reimbursed?

Intergovernmental Agreements and Options

What should an intergovernmental agreement include?

Cooperative arrangements with neighboring districts are encouraged by the law, but must neighboring districts agree to accept students?

What is considered “good faith” effort by a district to provide choice through intergovernmental agreement?

If a school district borders another state, is the district obligated and/or allowed to establish Interstate Governmental Agreements for the purpose of school choice?

What if no surrounding districts will agree to intergovernmental agreements?

Can a private school be one of the choice options?

What will happen to racial balances in schools as students transfer among schools through choice?

Can schools that have selective admission criteria, require that students meet timelines for application and/or pass specified tests?

If a school is under capacity or has unused classrooms, is there an obligation to open those spaces to accommodate school choice?

If a student chooses to enroll at an identified “choice school”, are future test scores of that student reported to the higher-performing school or the original home school?

What are the responsibilities of receiving school?

Eligibility of Schools and Students

Which schools are required to offer school choice? The Local Education Agencies (local school districts) shall provide all students enrolled in the sanctioned school with the option to transfer to another school that has not been identified for school improvement. Schools that are Title I funded and are in year one school improvement status, must offer parent choice.

How can single-school districts offer choice? NCLB requires that LEAs shall, to the extent practicable, enter into intergovernmental agreement on this issue and offer choice in these situations.

If the lowest performing students can leave a school in school improvement status, is it possible that all students have the right to leave that school? All students from the school in school improvement status are eligible, however, students who are the lowest performing and in the highest poverty have first priority. Another consideration is space availability.

How many Illinois schools will be required to offer choice in the 2002-03 school year? Of the 64 districts that have 593 schools currently on the state Academic Early Warning List, 55 districts have 232 schools that must offer choice this fall. A list of those schools will be available at www.isbe.net after July 16, 2002.

How should an eligible school identify and prioritize students for whom parents will be offered choice? The intent of the federal law is to make choice available to all eligible students, particularly for those families least likely to be able to afford or access private school choices. A local district policy should set the parameters for determining which students in an eligible school will be prioritized for choice. The district policy should provide for procedures to ensure the lowest achieving children from low-income families are given first priority. “Seat space” availability and/or financial limitations will need to be considered when determining the number of students who can be offered choice. District policy or procedures may include the following when ranking students:

1. Individual ISAT assessment scores should be used as a primary indicator along with IAA and IMAGE;

2. A local assessment would need to be used in a K-3 attendance center for determining lowest achieving students;

3. Reading and Mathematics assessment data should be primary indicators;

4. Additional indicators for determining targeted students could include writing, social studies and science assessment scores;

5. A lottery process for clustered students may be developed;

6. A district may choose to create a ranking tool/matrix to assist in the determination of choice.

If a district has schools organized into clusters or zones, can a district restrict the choice options to higher performing schools within that cluster or zone? Yes, the district can restrict the options within a cluster/zone as long as there is at least one higher performing school within the cluster/zone that has space available. (Back to top)

Parent Notification

Does a school have the option to not notify parents of public school choice? No, if a school is designated in school improvement, it must offer choice to parents in the school.

How long can a student stay in the “choice school? Assuming the family remains in the district, NCLB states that the student can stay in the new school until completing the highest grade at that school. The district’s obligation to provide transportation to the new school ends when the old school is no longer in improvement status. If the school they move to becomes a school in need of school improvement status, the student would have the option to move again to another school in a subsequent year.

How often can a parent transfer a child if the school they select does not meet expectations? The choice option can only be exercised once each school year.

When do parents need to be notified of choice and what are the districts responsibilities for notice? The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires LEAs to provide specific information to parents regarding the pubic school choice option prior to the beginning of the school year. Local districts can and should use Title I funds to launch public information campaigns on this topic. Registered or certified letters are not required. Parents/guardians have the responsibility for providing accurate and up-to-date information on where they can be contacted by the district.

Steps to take to satisfy this requirement could include:

1. General notification to the parents of the school, not later than the first day of the school year, in the form of newsletters, mailings, public forums, etc., that reflect the requirements under the Federal Law including current school board policies and procedures related to “choice” and the districts efforts for improvement through additional programming and support that will be initiated in these high priority schools. (See sample letter at the end of this document.)

2. Specific letters/contact to parents of first priority students (students who are the lowest performing and highest poverty) related to the “choice” option including a response process. Public Act 92-0604 requires that the choice option be exercised by a parent within 30 days of notice from the district that the option is available.

3. Once a choice has been made by the parent and “seat space” is available, the district will proceed to notify parents/guardian of the available choices either within the district or out of district and upon parent’s final decision, next step procedures will be provided related to registration, transportation, etc. (Back to top)

Funding and Transportation

What happens to ADA, Title 1 and other funding if parents choose to transfer to a higher performing school in another district? Funding remains with the district/school that is in school improvement. The transfer district receives funds based on an Intergovernmental Agreement between the two districts.

Who is responsible for paying student registration fees when a student transfer to a “choice school”? Student registration fees continue to be the responsibility of the student.

How far does a school that is required to offer choice have to transport children? The LEA determines the distance that is reasonable to transport. In general, LEAs would consider districts that are immediately adjacent to them or those districts/schools that participate in other agreements with them, e.g., sports.

If you have to offer out of district choice, does the district pay for transportation? Yes, the law stipulates that districts must set aside 20% of their Title I funding for public school choice transportation and supplemental services. Of the 20%, 5% must be for supplemental services and 5% for choice transportation. The remaining 10% can be divided among the two.

What modes of transportation can be paid or reimbursed? School buses, public transportation, cabs, reimbursement to parents for mileage and related expenses and any other reasonable form of transportation are allowed. (Back to top)

Intergovernmental Agreements and Options

What should an intergovernmental agreement include? As a result of NCLB, districts shall make a “good faith effort” to enter into intergovernmental agreement(s) on this issue and offer choice when there are no district choice options. Such agreements should address key issues:

1. Identify districts, prior to the start of the school year, which may be willing to accept “choice” students through written communications with appropriate and neighboring districts. Supporting documentation should be maintained to document “good faith”.

2. Given a positive response from one or more neighboring districts, the LEA school board attorney’s should be consulted for guidance and crafting of the intergovernmental agreement. Issues to be considered are transportation, tuition payments, student fees, extra curricular activities, parent notification, and receipt of General State Aid (suggested method on this issue is making it similar to the current practice regarding “lab schools”).

3. School Code references related to intergovernmental agreements may be found, as follows: Ill. Const. Art. VII, Sec. 10(a), 5 ILCS 220/1, 105 ILCS 5/10-22.22c, and 105 ILCS 5/10-22.31.

4. Should there be no positive responses from neighboring districts for offering “choice”, documentation should be on record to verify the LEAs “good faith effort”.

Cooperative arrangements with neighboring districts are encouraged by the law, but must neighboring districts agree to accept students? No, intergovernmental agreements must be agreed to by both districts.

What is considered “good faith” effort by a district to provide choice through intergovernmental agreement? At minimum a letter should be sent to surrounding district superintendents, asking for that district would agree to participate in an intergovernmental agreement. Copies of these letters should be maintained to document these attempts and the response to those attempts.

If a school district borders another state, is the district obligated and/or allowed to establish Interstate Governmental Agreements for the purpose of school choice? Yes, Article 7, Section 10 of the Illinois Constitution allows for cross-state governmental agreements. This, however, would present an unusual legal situation and would require more research and discussion among the two parties.

What if no surrounding districts will agree to intergovernmental agreements? Under these circumstances, choice would not be available, but efforts would need to be made each year.

Can a private school be one of the choice options? No, private schools are not choice options; however, public charter schools can be an option.

What will happen to racial balances in schools as students transfer among schools through choice? A student may not transfer if the transfer would prevent the school district from meeting its obligations under a state or federal law court order or consent decree applicable to the school district.

Can schools that have selective admission criteria, require that students meet timelines for application and/or pass specified tests? Yes, Public Act 92-0604, (SB 1983) requires students to meet criteria of a school if the board of education has established academic criteria for enrollment, unless the school is the only attendance center serving the student’s grade that has not been identified for school improvement, corrective action, or restructuring under the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

If a school is under capacity or has unused classrooms, is there an obligation to open those spaces to accommodate school choice? State law (Public Act 92-0604) provides that a school that exceeds, or as a result of the transfer, would exceed its attendance capacity does not have to accept students. However, if a school has space available in a higher performing school, it is the obligation of the district to use that space to serve students whose parents choose to send their child to that school.

If a student chooses to enroll at an identified “choice school”, are future test scores of that student reported to the higher-performing school or the original home school? Student test scores are reported at the higher-performing school to which the student transferred.

What are the responsibilities of receiving school? Receiving schools must recognize the special intake procedural needs and transition needs of the transferred students and their families as well as ensure that students who transfer to their school are enrolled in classes and other activities in the same manner as all other children at that school. This element should also be addressed in local policy.