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New Montana law to ease restrictions on student transfers to school districts

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Posted at 12:31 PM, Feb 23, 2024

There may be significant changes in enrollment numbers next school year because of a Montana law that will allow students to attend any public school if there's room.

The Montana Legislature passed House Bill 203 during the 2023 session and the law takes effect on July 1.

Students will be able to transfer from one school district to another, and parents will not have to pay tuition.

While it means a lot to the families, it may not be a big change for the Billings Public Schools.

"It allows for parents to have more of a say of where their students go to school," said Gordon Klasna, School District 2 executive director of secondary education.

Klasna said no tution is the biggest change.

The district where the student lives will pay the new district money out of property taxes to offset the switch.

“You're looking at $9,600 that you're losing from one student in the high school area," Klasna said.

Rep. David Bedey, R-Hamilton, is a co-sponsor of House Bill 203 and he says it eliminates barriers and gives public choice within the public school system.

He said that the district losing the student will send money that would have been used to the new school district.

“We get to charge the home district an enrollment fee for that,” said Dan Grabowska, Park City superintendent. “We get the ANB, the average number belonging, from the state for that student. And then we get to charge like tuition to the home district, which is a very minuscule amount, about 200 bucks."

According to the Office of Public Instruction, the transfer can be denied for capacity and building construction standards.

But Grabowska says along with other rules, it’s a narrow set of criteria.

"If a student has been suspended or expelled in the last several years, we're able to say no, you don't get to come in,” Grabowska said. “But other than that, it's pretty much open."

Grabowska said he does not yet know how the law will affect his district, which currently has about 325 students.

"It might hurt some of the smaller districts because I think some of the smaller districts might lose students," Grabowska said.

School District 2 has accepted transfers in the past.

Klasna does not expect an influx of students, but he does say double-A school districts can offer more.

"Dual credit AP classes, our new charter schools with early college school, multilingual academy, opportunity school, that may be a draw to some parents as well," Klasna said.

Klasna was recently the principal of Lockwood High School in a single-A district and had some students who transferred from Billings.

But overall, he's not expecting a big effect on the budget.

“We'll probably come out a little bit ahead, but it's not going to be an overly huge amount of money,” Klasna said.

More information is available on the OPI website on pages 19 and 20 of 68th Legislative Session summary.