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Law changes how Indiana schools accept transfers

SOUTH BEND – Indiana schools can no longer use certain criteria, such as past academic performance, standardized test scores and attendance history, to determine which transfer students it will accept.

The new law went into effect July 1. State Rep. Mike Karickhoff, R-Kokomo, told the South Bend Tribune he authored the law after seeing Marion Community Schools lose students to suburban schools, which he said was to be expected.

“But they weren’t losing a proportion of students across the academic spectrum. They were losing high-performing students,” he said.

With some exceptions, the only reason a school district with open enrollment can deny an out-of-district student’s request to transfer under the new law is lack of space. The law also requires that schools specify the number of students they will accept, establish a deadline for transfer requests, publish that date on the school’s website and report it to the state.

Some school districts are admitting fewer out-of-district students because of the new law, which Mishawaka Superintendent Terry Barker said diminishes the ability of parents to choose the school that best meets the needs of their students.

Before the law passed, Mishawaka schools accepted out-of-district students in every grade level and had 450 nonresident students – a boon for the district, because state tuition funding accompanies each nonresident student. The law allows for all those students, along with any siblings, to remain in their schools.

Since July 1, though, Mishawaka has limited the number of transfer students it will accept to 35 nonresident kindergartners.

“The nice thing about kindergarten students,” Barker told the board, “is it’s rare you find a kindergartner whose been suspended or expelled for more than 10 days or who has weapons or drug violations.”

Only about five families applied to transfer into Mishawaka schools. If the district would have received more than 35, a lottery would have been required.

If not for the new law, Barker said, Mishawaka would have been accepting students at all grade levels – as long as they met the requirements.

Karickhoff said the new law eliminates the ability of school corporations to select the best and brightest students from competing districts.

“It’s about parents and students choosing schools, not schools choosing students,” he said.