School Choice - Budget Impacts

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Thursday July 25, 2013

Since 2002, when Act 150 was created, South Burlington as well as its partner schools have enjoyed the benefits of a school choice agreement that has afforded students the opportunity to attend South Burlington, Essex, Burlington, or CVU regardless of residency. However, in 2012, the legislature passed Act 129 which altered these agreements significantly. One of the most prominent changes impacts finances. Under Act 150, tuition dollars followed the student. However, under Act 129, caps are set on enrollment and tuition money no longer follows the student. Since South Burlington High School accepts three times as many students as they send out (38 in and 10 out), the tuition payments made by sending districts were a substantial source of revenue. The legislative change resulted in a loss of $300,000 for South Burlington, or the equivalent of approximately four teachers’ salaries.  

Since the legislation was enacted, Superintendent Young has been working with the Board to determine next steps, at least for the coming academic year. “I am sensitive about changing student enrollment assumptions for families, especially when no prior notice was provided to the non-resident parents/guardians” Young said. Therefore, Young’s recommendations to the regular high school program would be two non-resident cap exemptions: siblings of non-resident students currently enrolled at SBHS (1) and pre-Act 129 commitment for a South Burlington student moving to CVU (1).  Also, the Agency of Education allows South Burlington to consider Big Picture a separate school with a separate cap. Therefore, four additional slots to students interested in enrolling in Big Picture from the list of 20 additional non-resident lottery students requesting enrollment in either SBHS or Big Picture. The capacity cap for Big Picture is 30 students. These recommendations were unanimously accepted. 

Outside legal requirements, Essex, CVU, and Burlington have all agreed to pay tuition until their students currently enrolled at SBHS graduate or withdraw. Currently, 21 students remain on a waiting list to get into South Burlington High School. There is certainly the hope by both the District and parents alike that legislative adjustments are made so that the positive choice relationships that have been fostered for over a decade can fiscally continue.  
SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent