BY MELANIE BUCK –
The deadline is quickly approaching for parents to choose what public school their students will attend come Fall 2017. In 2015, the Arkansas Legislature amended the Public School Choice Act of 2013, after it was set to sunset, and lawmakers knew they had to amend the Act in order to continue to give parents the right to choose the school district their children attend. Now named the Public School Choice Act of 2015, the new deadline to choose is May 1.
The purpose of the Act was to give parents more options on the education of their children. In partial, it reads: The students in Arkansas’s public schools and their parents will become more informed about and involved in the public educational system if students and their parents are provided greater freedom to determine the most effective school for meeting their individual educational needs. There is no right school for every student, and permitting students to choose from among different schools with differing assets will increase the likelihood that some at-risk students will stay in school and that other, more motivated students will find their full academic potential; (2) Giving more options to parents and students with respect to where the students attend public school will increase the responsiveness and effectiveness of the state’s schools because teachers, administrators, and school board members will have added incentive to satisfy the educational needs of the students who reside in the district.
Public school choice was first brought about by an Act created in 1989, which was quickly changed in 2013 due to federal courts finding parts of the Act unconstitutional, in the middle of Legislative session. Because of time restrictions, the Act was temporarily changed and was due to expire on July 1, 2015. Other changes included in the 2015 Act include desegregation orders, transferring students, and changes within the standards and limitations given in the law.
Standards for a student wanting to choose a district other than where they live are: (A) May include without limitation the capacity of a program, class, grade level, or school building; (B) May include a claim of a lack of capacity by a school district only if the school district has reached at least ninety percent (90%) of the maximum authorized student population in a program, class, grade level, or school building; (C) Shall include a statement that priority will be given to an applicant who has a sibling or stepsibling who resides in the same household and is already enrolled in the nonresident district by choice; and shall not include an applicant’s academic achievement, athletic or other extracurricular ability, English proficiency level, or previous disciplinary proceedings, except that an expulsion from another district may be included. A school district receiving transfers under this subchapter shall not discriminate on the basis of gender, national origin, race, ethnicity, religion, or disability.
To find out more about school choice, contact your local school administrator to discuss your options in selecting the district that best suits your child.