In South Dakota, you can pick your school district. If you live in Madison, but you'd rather send your kids to Chester or Rutland (or vice versa), you can (with the approval of the school boards involved). When you kids enroll at Rutland in the fall, Rutland qualifies for another $4665 in state aid for each open enrollee. Madison loses the same amount.
HB 1150 doesn't change that per-student allocation. The money stays with the kids. And that makes sense: more students means more books, more chalk, more barf clean-up sprinkle.
HB 1150 does change the small-school adjustment. Right now, the state gives medium school districts with enrollment of 200 or less (like Rutland and Oldham-Ramona) an additional $847 per student. School districts enrolling between 200 and 600 students get a similar adjustment proportionate to and declining with enrollment. Large districts with 600 and above (like Madison) get no such boost.
HB 1150 says the state will calculate the small-school adjustment for open-enrolled students based on the enrollment of the school they attend or the school they left, whichever is greater. What does that mean?
- If a student open-enrolls out of one small district into another (say, from Rutland to Oldham-Ramona), no change: the district getting the student still gets the full $847 small-school adjustment.
- If a student open-enrolls from a medium district to a small district (say, from Arlington or Colman-Egan to Rutland), the small school still gets an adjustment for that student, but the amount is based on the formula for the medium school the student came from. That reduces the aid Rutland gets for a student open-enrolling from Colman-Egan by about $120.
- If a student open-enrolls from a large district to a small district (say from Madison to Rutland), the small school adjustment disappears. For instance, a Madison student open-enrolling in Rutland still brings the base $4665 in state aid, but not the additional $847 of the small-school adjustment.
Of course, this bill has no impact on Chester and Madison, neither of which gets the small-school bonus for cherry-picking each other's basketball players—er, I mean, students.
This bill does raise the question of whether the small-school adjustment is fair in the first place. Smaller schools do cost more to run per student. Are small schools and small communities valuable enough to South Dakota that we will foot the bill for some inefficiency? Or do we just not have the money to support small schools?
Parting numbers: If I'm reading enrollment numbers correctly, about 120 of our 160 school districts receive some small-school adjustment. Those schools teach just 27% of our students. Ignoring geography, we could consolidate those 120 districts into about 50 with an enrollment of 600. The back of my envelope says the resulting complete elimination of the small-school adjustment would save the state about $18 million a year... in return for closing school districts in 70 communities.
*School choice advocates might also be cheesed over the hoghousing of SB 63, the charter schools bill. Our Senator Russell Olson joined a unanimous vote in deleting all the provisions about allowing charter schools statewide and narrowed the bill to allow only the Native American pilot charter school... if we can get a grant from Uncle Sam. (What did I say about blame for the federal deficit last week?)