#Legislative Legit: Senate Finance passes open enrollment bill a day after House Ed strikes it from agenda - AZEdNews
Sections    Friday March 24th, 2023

#Legislative Legit: Senate Finance passes open enrollment bill a day after House Ed strikes it from agenda

House Education Chair Michelle Udall During The Meeting March 23, 2021. Photo Courtesy Arizona Capitol Television

The Senate Finance Committee gave a due pass recommendation with a 5-4 vote to House Bill 2427 with an amendment that would ban school district attendance boundaries this morning, just one day after the House Education Committee struck a similar bill from its agenda.

#Legislative Legit: Senate Finance passes open enrollment bill a day after House Ed strikes it from agenda Sen-Paul-Boyer-150
Sen. Paul Boyer

Senate Bill 1685, sponsored by Sen. Paul Boyer, would ban attendance boundaries for district schools, require schools to give enrollment preference to students residing in their enrollment area, pupils returning to the school from the prior year, and siblings of pupils already enrolled.

Senate Bill 1685 would also require schools with enrollment that exceeds capacity to use an equitable selection process such as a transparent lottery , with the exception that preference shall be given to sibilings of a pupil selected through the equitable selection process.

Click here for an Arizona School Boards Association summary of SB 1685

“We’re seeing in in House Ed on Tuesday, and then it’s looking to kind of make an appearance as a strike everything amendment in Senate Finance to the bill House Bill 2427 as well so we’re going to be watching out for that one,” said Rico Yanez, ASBA governmental relations intern.

“We don’t actually know what the plan is, since we’re not really enthused about the bill for reasons that we’ll talk about,” said Chris Kotterman, director of governmental relations for Arizona School Boards Association. “They haven’t really told us what the plan is, but it could move through the House or the Senate at this point, depending on which route they choose to go following.”

There are a couple of concerns about the bill, Kotterman said.

#Legislative Legit: SB 1684 on open enrollment, school boundaries

Video edited by Jacquelyn Gonzales/ AZEdNews

“This bill aims to try to codify the open enrollment practices so it required districts to adopt a certain system for preference in establishing open enrollment, put that on their website, make parents aware of when they’re on the waiting list and things like that,” said Leigh Jensen, ASBA governmental relations associate.

“But the part that we’re mostly concerned about is by our reading it makes it so that school districts are not allowed to enforce attendance boundaries until they’re at capacity,” Jensen said. “At that point, they could prioritize students who live in that attendance boundary and then go to whatever open enrollment list they have available at the time.”

“We’re concerned about this. We think it’s a big problem for the whole concept of neighborhood schools. and it would really make it tough to play meaningfully in any way for enrollment based on who’s moving into and out of your district if you can’t enforce those boundaries until you’re already full,” Jensen said.

“As we know, the process of getting approved to construct new schools can be pretty long, so it might result in some crowding and bottle necking and things like that,” Jensen said.

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“Districts use those boundaries to plan for a lot of things like transportation and other things, and so they don’t just serve the purpose of zoning out schools for attendance,” Kotterman said.

“It’s not actually that difficult to enroll in another school within your school district if there’s capacity at the school,” Kotterman said. “Usually, kids within the district that aren’t in that particular school’s attendance area have second priority after kids living in that school’s attendance boundary.”

“It’s not an issue that we’re aware is a huge deal, but has been included here and we think it should come out,” Kotterman said.

“The second biggest issue has been brought to us by school district attorneys and special education administrators who are concerned about a provision in the bill that says that you cannot collect special education – it says IEP in the bill – which you know is not necessarily a bad thing, but it would also seemingly apply to any information about the student’s special education status,” Kotterman said.

That “sounds good on it’s face in certainly discrimination is not something that we would endorse. The problem is that if a student wants to attend a special education program at your school then you have to know a little bit about what their disability or needs are so that you can make sure that if you admit them, you can actually service their needs,” Kotterman said.

“A lot of districts staff to the needs that they know they have coming to their school, because obviously they’re obligated to serve those,” Kotterman said. “There’s not usually a lot of extra capacity in special education programs because of that.”

“Every district assumes that the students that are in their attendance area are going to come to their school, because that’s typically how it works,” Kotterman said.

“If students in another part of the district want to go to a school in another part of the district then that can be arranged, but again you have to be aware of what those needs are so you can meet those, because it’s not only an educational obligation, it’s a legal obligation that has very specific requirements,” Kotterman said.

“Ultimately, if the two bills are identical, one of them has to be chosen to move forward, so we’ll see how that goes,” Kotterman said.

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