By org jforward wisbar Joe Forward, Legal Writer, State Bar of Wisconsin
Oct. 5, 2010 – A Wisconsin statute that previously allowed school districts to cap the percentage of students that transferred to other school districts no longer applies, a Wisconsin Appeals Court recently held.
In 2009, the School District of Stockbridge (Stockbridge) in Calumet County denied the applications of eight resident students seeking to attend school in a nonresident school district.
At the time of the applications, more than 10 percent of Stockbridge resident students were attending school in a different school district. State aid money follows a student that transfers to another school district. In denying the applications, the Stockbridge cited Wis. Stat. section 118.51 and the financial hardship that would result from the transfers.
The parents of the students whose applications were denied applied for administrative review of the decision, and state superintendent of schools overturned the denials and granted the transfers. Stockbridge filed for judicial review, and the circuit court affirmed the superintendent’s decision.
In School District of Stockbridge v. Evers, 2010AP829-AC (Sept. 29, 2010), the district 2 appeals court concluded that Wis. Stat. section 118.51(2) “allows any public school student to attend a nonresident district” and section 118.51(6) “does not provide for a percentage limit on resident student transfers after the 2005-06 school year.” In addition, the court held that Stockbridge could not deny the applications on the grounds of undue financial burden.
Cannot limit transfers under statute
Wis. Stat. section 118.51(6) previously allowed school districts to cap the number of students that transferred to other school districts. Starting in the 1998-99 school year, the statute allowed school districts to cap the percentage of student transfers to three percent, with a one percent increase in each of the seven succeeding schools years.
The statute does not expressly state that authority to cap transfers ends after the 2005-06 school year, the seventh successive year after the 1998-99 school year.
Stockbridge argued that without express language removing the cap after 2005-06, the statute gives school districts ongoing authority to cap transfers at 10 percent. The court disagreed.
“Because there are no express provisions for any school year beyond 2005-06 and no indication that the application of the 2005-06 percentage limits would be ongoing, the application of the percentage limits must end in 2005-06,” the court explained.
The court also explained that legislative history confirms that after 2005-06, a school district cannot cap resident transfers to nonresident school districts.
Unless specific limitations apply, the court held that a school district cannot deny a transfer application based on the financial burden that results from the transfer.
“While section 118.51 imposes application requirements and some limitations, for example relating to racial balance and special education students … there are no restrictions on resident transfers which are based on the overall financial health of the resident district,” the court wrote.