Out-of-district residents can now pay a fee to attend Tallapoosa County Schools, an attempt to boost enrollment in what school board vice president Michael Carter described as "a recruiting game."
The Tallapoosa County Board of Education voted to approve the new out-of-district policy recommended by Superintendent Ray Porter Monday, which sets a $500 per semester tuition fee, or $750 per semester for families enrolling more than one child.
Up until now, Tallapoosa County Schools did not allow non-resident students, with exceptions considered on a case-by-case basis. However, Porter said he wanted to extend that opportunity to any student within commuting distance.
"I think Tallapoosa County has a superior product," he said last week, after presenting the idea to the board at a work session. "And I think we should encourage those that are interested in a quality education to come to Tallapoosa County."
The new policy follows a decision made last month by Alexander City Schools to waive its non-resident enrollment fee which was $500 per student last year, down from $2,500 per student in 2017.
While state and federal education funding "follows the student," out-of-district students must be enrolled for one year before that funding kicks in. Also, as non-residents, Tallapoosa County Schools would not benefit from those families' property taxes and is less likely to benefit from their sales tax. According to Porter, however, the fee is less about making up those costs and more about ensuring those students have "skin in the game."
While ultimately supportive of the new policy, school board members did raise a few concerns in discussion last week.
Carter said he worries the policy will draw complaint from Tallapoosa County students denied the ability to enroll in a different school within-district — Tallapoosa County Schools has strict attendance zones for Dadeville, Reeltown and Horseshoe Bend schools.
"I've been pretty hardline on that, and I've always voted that we do it that way," Carter said. "(But) if you went back and found those zones and put people where they should be, if they hadn't been grandfathered in or had some sort of permission — I know I've been on the board six or eight years and we haven't granted but one that I'm aware of, and that was because of a health and safety issue — I know we have out-of-zone children."
According to Carter and board member Matilda Woodyard-Hamilton, most of that negative impact has been on Dadeville elementary and high school enrollment.
"It's still some gray area for me," Carter said.
Woodyard-Hamilton also wanted to ensure the school district could accommodate the influx.
"I hope we fill them up," Porter said. "I hope we fill them all up. I hope we have to build more schools."
The non-resident enrollment policy was passed by unanimous vote Monday. Board member Martin Johnson was absent.