Lawmakers sidetrack 'enroll anywhere' proposal

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — North Carolina lawmakers on Monday sidetracked a proposal to allow students to attend a public school anywhere in the state, saying they want more time to consider its potential impact.

The proposed law would tell school districts to draw up plans allowing families to pick their tuition-free preference. Taxpayer money would follow the transferring students to pay for their education.

The proposal would let school districts refuse an outside student if the requested school lacks enough space or teachers, if transfers would upset an established desegregation plan or if the student has had discipline problems.

Members of a legislative oversight committee decided to keep studying the issue rather than introduce a draft law ahead of the annual General Assembly session starting next week.

Rep. Bryan Holloway, R-Stoke, said lawmakers need to spend more time on the bill.

"Members may need more time to talk to local superintendents," he said.

Leanne Winner, a lobbyist for the North Carolina School Boards Association, agreed with the decision by lawmakers to go slowly. The legislation would upend the ability of school districts to plan for building, bus and book needs, she said.

Winner wondered whether school districts where local residents tax themselves substantially to supplement basic state education funds would continue to do that if outsiders are benefiting? What happens if open seats taken up by out-of-district students are needed mid-year because of a student influx? Would a stream of students leaving one district for another force school closures?

"I think that obviously would be an extreme situation, and probably, at least in the beginning, not overly likely. But if you end up with a whole bunch of factors playing together, it could become the lynchpin" for big changes, Winner said.

Twenty states have adopted laws requiring schools to accept student transfers across district boundaries since Minnesota became the first in 1988, according to the Denver-based Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan group that researches education policy. They include Georgia.

In Ohio, nearly 72,000 public school students shifted school districts last year, leading to $360 million in public school funding moving from one community to another, the Akron Beacon Journal reported in March.

The proposed North Carolina law's language is similar to a model offered by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which counts many legislators as members. Businesses provide the bulk of the financing for the association, and industry officials develop model legislation with state lawmakers on closed-door task forces.

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