ODE addresses contentious aspects of charter school student activities law
Most high school charter school students will have access to school district interscholastic activities under proposed rules for a 2017 law, even if the district doesn’t like it.
The 2017 Legislature passed Senate Bill 208 to give charter school students the same access to district activities as homeschooled students.
Two of the key sticking points in the new law have been which students are eligible and how much districts can charge for participation. The law went into effect July 3, but the Oregon Department of Education is still working out the rules.
Many charter schools already have agreements with districts for student participation, but the new law gives some charter school students the right to access. Before the law, districts could charge as much for participation as they wanted, but some didn’t charge anything.
“The statute we are working with can be interpreted incredibly broadly,” Kate Pattison, ODE charter school specialist, told the State Board of Education at a meeting Sept. 28. “In almost any single area, you can go in three different directions.”
ODE has been working with districts and education stakeholders to craft its rules. ODE is holding a public hearing at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 20, on its proposal.
The charter school student must reside in the district and meet district eligibility requirements. The law only covers Oregon School Activities Association-sanctioned activities.
Under ODE’s proposed rules released Wednesday, if a charter school does not offer any OSAA-sanctioned activities, a school district must let the charter school’s students participate in district activities. Only 14 of Oregon’s 125 public charter schools are full OSAA members.
Some districts argued that the rule would create an incentive for charter schools not to offer any activities.
Districts may charge the charter school a maximum of 5 percent of the district’s budget allotment per student, regardless of the number of activities. Districts may charge up to an additional 5 percent for every course credit required.
It is not clear how well the 5 percent cap, which works out to about $350, reflects actual costs to the districts. In analysis of the bill, the Legislative Fiscal Office said: “The ramifications of this measure are not fully understood and therefore the fiscal impact cannot be determined.”
Activity costs vary wildly depending on the district, sport, travel, staff time, insurance, facilities involved and other factors. Angie Peterman, executive director of the Oregon Association of School Business Officials, is not aware of any independent calculations of school costs for activities.
Smaller districts’ budgets are proportionally more affected by shifting a student or two for activities.
Superintendent Mark Mulvihill of InterMountain Education Service District, which serves school districts in eastern Oregon, says the 5 percent cap isn’t adequate to cover sports costs. According to the Milton-Freewater Unified School District, football can cost as much as $800 per student, more than 10 percent of the state’s funding for that student. The cost is compounded if the student plays more than one sport. The districts would like to see districts compensated at actual costs for the activities, Mulvihill said.
“We believe that the Senate bill requires school districts to help subsidize charter school programs,” Mulvihill said.
For charter schools, losing 10 percent or more of a student’s ADMw to pay for a course or two could severely cut into education budgets.
Redmond Proficiency Academy has 60-70 students a year that participate in sports and activities, according to testimony by Executive Director Jonathon C. Bullock. If the district charged the full amount up to the cap, it could cost the district more than $20,000 a year.
Michael Gibson of Renaissance Public Academy has been talking with the Molalla School District about what the rules might mean. In the past, Molalla has only charged Renaissance the same fees it charges its own students. Gibson said Molalla is still studying the rules before deciding whether it would charge Renaissance more.
“What exactly does this mean for us?” Gibson said. “That’s the bottom line.”
The Oregon Department of Education is encouraging districts and charter schools to reach agreements to keep the fees as low as possible.
Logistical issues present challenges as well. Schools would have to work through transportation issues, bell schedules and course-content timelines for students to attend practices and classes.
Districts would have to reach separate agreements with every charter school that has a student who lives within the district’s boundaries. Charter schools, likewise, would have to reach separate agreements with every district their students are from.
If the charter school offers some OSAA-sanctioned activities, districts still have the option of letting charter students participate in district activities. Many districts have long had activity agreements with their charter schools.
“Our tack has been our charter schools are really our students, our schools,” said Molalla River School Board member Neal Lucht. “We tried to take an approach several years ago around how can we support them and make them successful as part of our district.”
Dallas School District Assistant Superintendent Dennis Engle said his district works closely with two K-8 charter schools to provide classes and activities because those students will be rejoining the district in high school.
“This law doesn’t change a lot of our practices,” he said.
OSBA, which has been involved in discussions about the law, has created an FAQ on Senate Bill 208.
“There are a lot of questions on how this law will look in practice,” said Spencer Lewis, OSBA member services attorney. “I would not be surprised to see the Legislature consider changing aspects of the law after seeing the effects of implementation.”
ODE is asking for feedback on specific school situations, and it expects more revisions to the proposed rules. Written testimony can be submitted to Kate Pattison at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The State Board of Education will consider the rules at its next meeting, Oct. 26.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA