Over the last two weeks, I’ve done a lot of reading state law and local district policies on enrolling nonresident pupils. That’s allowed me to write our Prichard Committee “just-the-facts-ma’am” explainer. In the process, I’ve also formed some opinions about how these changes can be handled to work constructively (or as constructively as possible) for students, staff, families, and communities. They’re my starting thoughts, and I’ll share them here.

Susan Weston, Prichard Committee Senior Fellow

First, four suggestions for districts about admitting and serving nonresident students:

  1. Define your “enrollment capacity” as 20 students per classroom teacher under contract for the current school year (or a number in that ballpark). The 20 is an honest number for helping teachers set up classrooms that are responsive to individual needs. You don’t have to use the higher numbers found in state class size caps as your capacity. If you start out below those caps, you have a little space to fit in a few late-arriving resident pupils. (20 isn’t set in stone. If you look at district finances and need to set the number higher, that’s respectable. If you look at your community commitments and want to set the number lower, that’s exciting.)
  2. Admit all the non-resident students who won’t put you over capacity. You have room, their families want them in your schools, and they’re Kentucky kids. That should be enough. Don’t prioritize or give preferences. Don’t sort or evaluate children. Welcome them, treasure them, and teach them. (When the law says districts “shall not discriminate between nonresident children,” I think that already means you can’t sort and prioritize, but I know you may read the law differently. So, if you do think the sorting can fit the law, let me appeal to public education values: I hope you won’t try to pick and choose between the students who arrive at your schoolhouse door.)
  3. Make admission permanent, with a small exception if later enrollment changes could push you over capacity. An admitted student becomes part of your community. The best thing for the student is for that to be a settled matter unless rising numbers will substantially harm your ability to serve residents. Don’t require a new application each year. Also, don’t push students out of your schools based on issues like attendance, grades, or behavior: treasure your learners even when you find it challenging to serve them well. In Danville, we say “once an Admiral, always an Admiral.” Whatever version of that phrase your system uses, I hope you apply it to your non-resident students from the day you admit them until long after their 50th reunion.
  4. Skip tuition. You won’t need the money. Your SEEK guarantee will go up for each student, and the state will pay the full guarantee amount into your coffers, reduced only for any missed attendance days. The added funding will be enough to cover books and supplies and furniture and other dollar costs the student adds, and you won’t admit students who require you to hire more teachers. Plus, tuition won’t bring in many dollars. You’ll have to waive tuition for students who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches*, so the fees will only affect a small fraction of learners and their families. (I agree with the Department of Education that tuition is unconstitutional. If you disagree on that, I hope you’ll still consider this other argument I’m making: you can afford to be welcoming and kind by skipping the tuition, so I think you should.)

Second, a quick thought for “sending districts,” meaning the folks in communities where some resident students will move to another district. I know that’s going to be challenging. Even small enrollment shifts can bring substantial disruptions. In all districts, and especially in small ones, even a handful of students leaving can require a staffing cut, and that cut may mean bigger classes or fewer course options. In all districts and especially in those that have already been handling declining enrollment, challenges may arrive faster and harder because of this legal change. I promise my notes above are not arguments in favor of the new law: I’d need to study for a lot longer before I could take a position on a change this big. Instead, since the change is now in Kentucky law, my thoughts are only about working with that fact and implementing the new rules in ways that are responsible, constructive and kind.

I’d love to learn from perspectives and concerns I haven’t addressed here, so please do share thoughts if you have them.

* Above, I mentioned Kentucky’s requirement to waive fees for student eligible for free or reduced-price meals. If you want to check out those rules, they’re found in KRS 160.330 and 702 KAR 3:220.


Susan Perkins Weston analyzes Kentucky data and policy, and she’s always on the lookout for ways to enrich the instructional core where students and teachers work together on learning content. Susan is an independent consultant who has been taking on Prichard Committee assignments since 1991. She is a Prichard Committee Senior Fellow.

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