School Districts Obligated to Enroll Charter School Students After Pupil Count

When a student leaves a charter school, the student will likely seek enrollment in the public school where he or she resides. Further, it is not uncommon for a student to be enrolled in a charter school on count day (fourth Wednesday in September) and then later enroll in a public school. Under such circumstances, the public school is not able to include the former charter school student in its pupil membership count, and thus, the educating school district is not entitled to receive the full foundation allowance for the new student.

The Attorney General recently issued a lengthy opinion (No. 7154) that answers several questions relating to this situation. First of all, the Attorney General looks at whether public school academies have the same enrollment obligations as public schools. Under Section 1147 of the Revised School Code (MCL 380.1147), any child who is a resident of a school district has the right to "attend school in the district" and is entitled to enroll in the district. However, because a charter school has no defined geographical territory assigned to it, the Attorney General concluded that Section 1147 has no application to public school academies.

The next issue discussed in the opinion is whether a public school district is obligated to enroll a student who leaves a public school academy after the fall count date, even though the school does not receive the per pupil foundation allowance for that student, which remains with the public school academy. The opinion emphasizes that, based on Section 1147, "the statutory right to attend school in the student's district of residence exists regardless of whether the student was previously enrolled in a public school academy and regardless of when in the school year the student chooses to enroll." Therefore, a public school district is prohibited from imposing enrollment restrictions, not found in the Revised School Code, on former charter school students who are residents of the school district.

However, as the opinion points out, the State School Aid Act includes a provision that could provide relief to public school districts that encounter a large influx of former charter school students who enroll after the count day. The educating district (or receiving district) may recover a portion of a student's foundation allowance by meeting the following conditions found in Section 25b of the State School Aid Act, MCL 388.1625b: (1) the pupil transfers from one of three other school districts (includes public school academies); (2) the pupil was counted in the membership in the public school academy from which the pupil transferred; (3) the pupil was a resident of the educating school district on the pupil membership count day or met other eligibility criteria to be counted in the membership in the educating district on the count day; and (4) the total number of pupils described above who transferred from one of the three other districts or public school academies and enrolled in the educating district is at least equal to the greater of 25 students or 1 percent of the educating district's membership.

If the conditions are met, the amount of the foundation grant will be prorated according to the number of days that the pupil attends school in the educating district as compared to the number of days that the pupil was enrolled in the public school academy that counted the pupil in membership. The public school academy must pay this amount to the educating district. If payment is not made within 30 days of the request, the Department of Education will calculate the amount owed and deduct that amount from the public school academy's state school aid payments for the balance of the fiscal year and pay the amount to the educating district.

Lastly, the Attorney General concludes in the opinion that a public school district may not require a resident student to follow the district's "school of choice" enrollment procedures. Therefore, a public school district must enroll a child who is qualified by age and residence and the district may not treat such a student who exercised an educational option, such as attending a charter school or another public school via schools of choice, as if that student were a nonresident of the district.