Local schools benefit from transfer student funds

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Department of Education released its first Public Corporation Transfer Report.  Focused on the fall 2017-18 school year, the report aims to help schools better understand the mobility of students living within the boundaries of their school corporations.

South Madison Community School Corp. and Frankton-Lapel Community School Corp. both showed the vast majority of students living within their district boundaries attend local schools.

Both corporations also show they’ve been successful in attracting transfer students from outside of their boundaries. Frankton-Lapel had more than 850 transfer students this fall, while South Madison attracted nearly 430.

Of the 2,258 students living inside Frankton-Lapel boundaries, 2,178 attend Franklin-Lapel schools.

Only 67 attend a different public school or public charter, while another 16 attend a non-public school through the Indiana Choice Scholarship program.

Superintendent Bobby Fields wasn’t surprised only 83 resident students opted to attend other districts or private schools.

“I think most students are happy with the educational opportunities Frankton-Lapel provides,” Fields said. “I also think students feel safe here and are welcomed in our schools.”

Frankton-Lapel schools have small enough enrollments that almost every student can participate in extracurricular activities, giving students a sense of belonging, Fields said.

School leaders are proud to attract more than 850 students from outside of the Frankton-Lapel district, Fields said.

The figure is important because the corporation’s General Fund, which pays teacher salaries, is determined by student enrollment. The district receives $5,273 from the state for each student, Fields said.

The large number of transfer students helps the district hire more teachers and keep class sizes smaller. Transfer students brought $4.49 million into the district this fall. That compares with $421,840 that followed students who transferred out of the district.

Fields said he believes transfer students are attracted to the district because of its reputation for having robust academic and extra-curricular opportunities, as well as a safe and welcoming environment.

Of the 4,293 students living within South Madison boundaries, 4,037 are attending South Madison schools.

Two hundred twenty-five students living within the boundaries attend a different public school or public charter, while 31 attended a non-public school through the Indiana Choice Scholarship program.

A further breakdown shows 43 students decided to go to Mt. Vernon schools, while another 24 are attending Frankton-Lapel schools.

The district has attracted 429 students from other corporations. The number affirms what the district is trying to accomplish, Superintendent Joe Buck said.

“We want a school system that makes the community proud,” he said.

The transfer out numbers are not surprising to Buck. He noted how some parents have connections to other districts and choose to have their children attend there. Other parents want a faith-based educational program for their children.

“We have found that this is true in elementary school; however, many of these families choose to bring their children back to South Madison for middle school and high school,” Buck said.

The district does not pursue students who choose another school district; it lets families choose for themselves.

The transfer students come mainly from other Madison County school districts, but there also are transfer students from Henry and Hancock counties.

Based on the per-student payment, South Madison received $2.26 million in state funds last fall for students who transferred into the district. That compares with $1.35 million that followed students who transferred out of the district.

Frankton-Lapel schools accepted transfer students long before former Gov. Mitch Daniels was in office, Fields said. Daniels changed the way schools’ general funds were funded. Before he was in office, a school’s general fund was partially funded by local taxpayers and mostly by the state. If a student wanted to transfer to another district, he or she had to pay tuition proportionate to the percentage local taxpayers were funding the general fund.

Daniels eliminated the local taxpayer portion to the general fund, and now a school’s general fund is solely funded by state dollars, Fields said.

Now, if a student decides to transfer to another district, there is no cash tuition charged to the student.

“This is what opened the floodgate of student transfers all over the state,” Fields said.

Because the Frankton-Lapel district had extra space in each of its buildings, it has accepted as many transfer students as have wanted to attend.

State officials were pleased to compile and release the 2017-18 transfer report providing schools with insight into the students they serve, Jennifer McCormick, Indiana superintendent of public instruction, wrote in a press release.

“Having a greater understanding of every aspect of our local districts will allow our educators to make important decisions and better plans,” McCormick said.

By law, the transfer report will be released every spring and fall.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.