2004 Regular Session

To: Education

By: Senator(s) Burton, Brown

Senate Bill 2963



     SECTION 1.  (1)  This section may be referred to and cited as the "Mississippi Public School Choice Act of 2004."

     (2)  The Legislature finds that the students in Mississippi's public schools and their parents will become more informed about and involved in the public educational system if students and their parents or guardians 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 differing schools with different assets will increase the likelihood that some marginal students will stay in school and that other, more motivated students will find their full academic potential.

     (3)  The Legislature further finds that 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, since teachers, administrators and school board members will have added incentives to satisfy the educational needs of the students who reside in the district.

     (4)  The Legislature therefore finds that these benefits of enhanced quality and effectiveness in our public schools justify permitting a student to apply for admissions to a school in any district beyond the one in which the student resides, provided that the transfer by this student would not adversely affect the desegregation of either district.

     (5)  A public school choice program is hereby established to enable any student to attend a school in a district in which the student does not reside, subject to the restrictions contained in this section.

     SECTION 2.  (1)  (a)  Before a student may attend a school in a nonresident district, the student's parent or guardian shall submit an application on a form approved by the State Department of Education to the nonresident district.  This application must be postmarked not later than July 1 of the year in which the student would begin the fall semester at the nonresident district.

          (b)  (i)  Within thirty (30) days of the receipt of an application from a nonresident student seeking admission under the terms of this section, the nonresident district shall notify the parent or guardian and the resident district in writing as to whether the student's application has been accepted or rejected.

              (ii)  If the application is rejected, the nonresident district must state in the notification letter the reason for rejection.

              (iii)  If the application is accepted, the nonresident district shall state in the notification letter:

                   1.  An absolute deadline for the student to enroll in the district, or the acceptance notification is null; and

                   2.  Any instructions for the renewal procedures established by the district.

     (2)  (a)  The local school board of every public school district in Mississippi shall adopt by resolution specific standards for acceptance and rejection of applications.  Standards may include the capacity of a program, class, grade level or school building.  Nothing in this section requires a school district to add teachers, staff or classrooms or in any way to exceed the requirements and standards established by existing law.  Standards shall include a statement that priority will be given to applications from siblings residing or stepsiblings residing in the same residence or household of students already attending the district by choice.  Standards may not include an applicant's previous academic achievement, athletic or other extracurricular ability, handicapping conditions, English proficiency level or previous disciplinary proceeding, except that an expulsion from another district may be included to disqualify such transfer.

          (b)  (i)  Any student who applies for a transfer under this section and is denied a transfer by the nonresident district may request a hearing before the State Board of Education to reconsider the transfer.

              (ii)  A request for a hearing before the State Board of Education shall be in writing and shall be postmarked no later than ten (10) days after notice of rejection of the application is received by the student.

     (3)   Each school district shall participate in public school choice consistent with this section.

     (4)  The responsibility for transportation of a student from the student's resident school district to a nonresident school district shall be borne by the student or the student's parents.  The nonresident school district may enter into a written agreement with the student, student's parents or resident school district to provide transportation to or from any place in the resident district to the nonresident district, or both.

     (5)  (a)  A nonresident district shall accept credits toward graduation that were awarded by another district.

          (b)  The nonresident district shall award a diploma to a nonresident student if the student meets the nonresident district's graduation requirements.

          (c)  For purposes of determining a school district's state adequate education program allotment, the nonresident student shall be counted as a part of the average daily membership of the district to which the student has transferred.

     (6)  The provisions of this section and all student choice options created in this section are subject to the following limitations:

          (a)  No student may transfer to a nonresident district where the percentage of enrollment for the student's race exceeds that percentage in the student's resident district except in the circumstances set forth in paragraphs (b) and (d) of this subsection;

          (b)  A transfer to a district is exempt from the restriction set forth in subsection (6)(a) of this section if the transfer is between two (2) districts within a county, and if the minority percentage in the student's race and majority percentages of school enrollment in both the resident and nonresident district remain within an acceptable range of the county's overall minority percentage in the student's race and majority percentages of school population as set forth by the department;

          (c)  The department shall, by the filing deadline each year, compute the minority percentage in the student's race and majority percentages of each county's public school population from the October Annual School Report and shall then compute the acceptable range of variance from those percentages for school districts within each county.  In establishing the acceptable range of variance for school choice, the department is directed to use the remedial guideline of allowing an overrepresentation or underrepresentation of minority or majority students of one-fourth (1/4) or twenty-five percent (25%) of the county's racial balance;

          (d)  A transfer is exempted from the restriction set fourth in subsection (6)(a) of this section if each school district within the county does not have a critical mass of minority percentage in the student's race of more than ten percent (10%) of any single race;

          (e)  In any instance where the foregoing provisions would result in a conflict with a desegregation court order or a district's court-approved desegregation plan, the terms of the order or plan shall govern;

          (f)  The department shall adopt appropriate rules and regulations to implement the provisions of this section; and

          (g)  The department shall monitor school districts for compliance with this section.

     (7)  The State Board of Education shall be authorized to resolve disputes arising under subsections (2) through (6) of this section.

     (8)  Local school districts shall cause public announcements to be made over the broadcast media and in the print media at such times and in such manner as to inform parents or guardians of students in adjoining districts of the availability of the program, the application deadline, and the requirements and procedure of nonresident students to participate in the program.

     (9)  (a)  All school districts shall report to the State Department of Education on an annual basis the race, gender and other pertinent information needed to properly monitor compliance with the provisions of this section.

          (b)  The reports may be on those forms that are prescribed by the department, or the data may be submitted electronically by the district using a format authorized by the department.

          (c)  The department may withhold state aid from any school district that fails to file its report each year or fails to file any other information with a published deadline requested from school districts by the department so long as thirty (30) calendar days are given between the request for the information and the published deadline.

          (d)  A copy of the report shall be provided to the Education Committees of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

     SECTION 3.  Section 37-15-29, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

     37-15-29.  (1)  Except as provided in subsections (2), (3),  (4) and (5) of this section, no minor child may enroll in or attend any school except in the school district of his residence, unless such child be lawfully transferred from the school district of his residence to a school in another school district in accord with the statutes of this state now in effect or which may be hereafter enacted.

     (2)  Those children whose parent(s) or legal guardian(s) are instructional personnel or certificated employees of a school district may at such employee's discretion enroll and attend the school or schools of their parent's or legal guardian's employment regardless of the residence of the child.

     (3)  No child shall be required to be transported in excess of thirty (30) miles on a school bus from his or her home to school, or in excess of thirty (30) miles from school to his or her home, if there is another school in an adjacent school district located on a shorter school bus transportation route by the nearest traveled road.  Those children residing in such geographical situations may, at the discretion of their parent(s) or legal guardian(s), enroll and attend the nearer school, regardless of the residence of the child.  In the event the parent or legal guardian of such child and the school board are unable to agree on the school bus mileage required to transport the child from his or her home to school, an appeal shall lie to the State Board of Education, or its designee, whose decision shall be final.

     (4)  Those children lawfully transferred from the school district of his residence to a school in another school district prior to July 1, 1992, may, at the discretion of their parent(s) or legal guardian(s), continue to enroll and attend school in the transferee school district.  Provided further, that the brother(s) and sister(s) of said children lawfully transferred prior to July 1, 1992, may also, at the discretion of their parent(s) or legal guardian(s), enroll and attend school in the transferee school district.

     (5)  Those children whose request for a transfer to a nonresident school district has been approved pursuant to the school choice program as provided in Sections 1 and 2 of Senate Bill No. 2963, 2004 Regular Session.

     SECTION 4.  This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2004.