The charter school regulations state that "the Department [of Elementary and Secondary Education] shall notify each Commonwealth charter school no later than February 15 of any limitation on the number of students from a district that may be enrolled in charter schools for the upcoming year." 603 CMR 1.05(6)(d).
This memo should be read and reviewed in tandem with the FY21 Pre-Enrollment Submission Memorandum distributed to all charter schools and posted on the Department's website by February 15, 2020.
Limitations on the number of students from a district are a result of the net school spending (NSS) caps established by the charter school statute (M.G.L. Chapter 71, Section 89(i)(2)).
Guided by the provisions of the charter school statute, the Department has determined the projected FY21 NSS caps for districts and the estimated seats (FTE) available for the FY21 school year, under the relevant caps 2. All Commonwealth charter schools should use this guidance to plan for and conduct upcoming enrollment lotteries for the FY21 school year. Please use this information to clearly communicate enrollment constraints to applicants seeking admittance for the FY21 school year.
As more districts reach relevant NSS caps, Commonwealth charter schools face the possibility of proration of charter school tuition. Due to the mandatory language of the charter school statute, the Department has no discretion in determining the NSS cap and must ensure that district payments to charter schools do not exceed the relevant caps. The Department urges Commonwealth charter schools to carefully track enrollment of students from districts at or near NSS caps. Full charter school tuition cannot be guaranteed from districts projected to be at or near NSS caps. Please see information below about tuition payment for siblings when admission of a sibling causes a district to exceed its NSS cap.
For almost two decades, the Department has utilized sub-caps to limit enrollment from specific districts to assist charter schools in managing enrollment within NSS caps. The goal is to avoid proration of tuition while permitting Commonwealth charter schools to enroll students up to the relevant NSS caps. These sub-caps operate in a fashion similar to maximum enrollment limits. These "sub-caps" set limits for the total enrollment from relevant districts, but do not guarantee tuition for the specified number of students. A sub-cap is an administrative limit at a particular charter school on the number of students that can be enrolled from a particular district. The statutory NSS cap, however, is a limit on the amount of tuition that can be transferred to Commonwealth charter schools in total from that district.
The Commonwealth pays full tuition for siblings when the admission of a sibling causes a district to exceed the NSS cap. The Commonwealth continues paying full tuition for such sibling until it is no longer the continued attendance of the sibling that is causing the district to exceed its NSS cap. The charter school statute specifies that the Commonwealth pays tuition for "siblings attending commonwealth charter schools to the extent that their attendance would otherwise cause the school district's charter school tuition payments to exceed 9 per cent of the school district's net school spending." G.L. c. 71, § 89(i)(2). If tuition payments from a district to Commonwealth charter schools do not exceed its NSS cap in any year, the district will resume payments for siblings who were previously admitted.
Using projected FY21 enrollment numbers for charter schools, projected FY21 tuition rates, and required FY21 NSS figures, the Department's Office of District and School Finance has calculated preliminary projections of each sending district's FY21 enrollment against the 9 percent NSS cap, 18 percent NSS cap, or other relevant NSS cap.
Given the data above and based on the Department's understanding of charter school growth plans for FY21, the Department projects the number of "seats" (FTE) that will remain for charter school enrollment in each sending district after the FY21 enrollment process has been completed. Based on this analysis and depending on how many FTE seats remain before potential proration of tuition, the Department has determined that certain school districts are "near-cap" and "at-cap" districts.
Listed in Table 1A and 1B, "near-cap" and "at-cap" districts are projected to have very few seats remaining and may be subject to proration if actual, non-sibling enrollment exceeds FY21 projections. These districts are projected to have either fewer than 10 FTE seats remaining or projected to have charter tuition assessments above 8.50 percent of NSS, or 17.5 percent of NSS, or are within 0.5 percent of the relevant NSS cap.
In addition, the Department has identified, in Table 2, districts that are "approaching-cap." These districts are projected to have some seats remaining, but might also be subject to proration if actual FY21 enrollment exceeds projections by the FTE remaining. These districts have either fewer than 25 FTE seats remaining or projected to have charter tuition assessments above 7 percent of NSS, 16 percent of NSS, or are within 2 percent of the relevant NSS cap.
As has been the case in prior years, in accordance with 603 CMR 1.05(10)(b), the Department recommends that charter schools exercise the option to skip over students who reside in the near-cap districts and who apply for enrollment. See near-cap districts subject to a recommended skip over in Table 1A.
In the case of at-cap districts, those listed in Table 1B, the Department will require Commonwealth charter schools to skip over non-sibling applicants who reside in the districts of Malden, Medford, Randolph, Salem, and Up-Island if the charter of the school 3 does not include these districts. All regional Commonwealth charter schools with Malden, Medford, Randolph, Salem, and Up-Island in their charter region may skip over non-sibling students who reside in the at-cap districts and who apply for enrollment. Non-sibling enrollment could lead to tuition pro ration (603 CMR 1.05(10)(b)).4
Charter school tuition from any districts identified as "near-cap" or "at-cap" for FY21 may be subject to proration. The Department cannot guarantee full tuition for students residing in districts projected to be at or near NSS caps. In addition, the Department also cannot guarantee full tuition regardless of a school's maximum enrollment or enrollment sub-caps. The Department will provide further guidance to charter schools that may be impacted by near-cap or at-cap district designations for FY21. 5
Please note that in the event that a sending district's tuition assessment exceeds the applicable percent NSS cap, the Department will prorate equally that district's tuition assessment among all charter schools enrolling students from that district.
If, during your school's enrollment lottery, residents of a district subject to skip-over are selected, the school should place such applicants on its waitlist in the order in which they are selected. If seats become available or an individual student's enrollment preference changes because of change in residence or sibling status, those students could be offered admission. All schools must maintain accurate waitlist information based on the outcome of a school's lottery and admission of students from the waitlist.
Additionally, schools should communicate accurate information for families regarding the enrollment constraints for a specific town as determined by the Department and clearly explain admission practices, including those related to districts near or at the NSS cap. Schools should inform families if they will be "skipping over" applicants from certain districts and placing them on the school's waitlist. Schools should clearly indicate that placement on the waitlist permits the school to offer admission if a vacancy occurs during the school year and if the district is no longer at or near its NSS cap.6
If you have questions regarding implementation of your enrollment policy or the guidance regarding implementation of skip over practices, please contact Brenton Stewart or 781-338-3214. Please direct any questions regarding NSS caps to Alyssa Hopkins or 781-338-3219.
G.L. c. 71, § 89(i)(3) is as follows:
In any fiscal year, if the board determines based on student performance data collected pursuant to section 1I, said district is in the lowest 10 per cent of all statewide student performance scores released in the 2 consecutive school years before the date the charter school application is submitted, the school district's total charter school tuition payment to commonwealth charter schools may exceed 9 per cent of the district's net school spending but shall not exceed 18 per cent.
If a district is no longer in the lowest 10 per cent, the net school spending cap shall be 9 per cent, unless the district net school spending was above 9 per cent in the year prior to moving out of the lowest 10 per cent in which case the net school spending cap shall remain at the higher level plus enrollment previous approved by the board. The department shall determine and make available to the public a list of the school districts in said lowest 10 per cent.
G.L. c. 71, § 89(i)(4) is as follows:
(4) Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, if a district qualifying under paragraph (3) is no longer in the lowest 10 per cent, the net school spending cap shall be 9 per cent; provided, however, that if the board of elementary and secondary education previously approved a higher level of enrollment for a charter school in the district while the district was in the lowest 10 per cent, the net school spending cap shall remain at the level necessary to support such enrollment. This paragraph shall apply only to charter school enrollments approved before July 1, 2014.
2 These estimates are based on the Governor's proposed state budget for FY2021 and are subject to change. The Department is unable to provide determinations of near and at cap districts prior to the development and release of the Governor's proposed state budget for the coming fiscal year.
3 The districts specified in a school's charter are a material term. Regional charter schools draw students from more than one district, as specified in the school's charter. Non-regional charter schools draw students from the district in which the school is located. The districts in the charter of a school are indicated in a number of documents including, but not limited to, letters relating to renewal of charters or letters granting a charter amendment.
4 603 CMR 1.05 (10)(b) In cases where the enrollment of a student, who is not a sibling of another currently enrolled student, from the waitlist would exceed the district charter tuition cap, the student should be skipped over but kept on the waitlist. In cases where the enrollment of a student who is a sibling of a student already attending a charter school would exceed the district charter school tuition cap, the sibling may be enrolled with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts providing tuition for the sibling, subject to appropriation.
5 Due to provisions in the charter school statute (G.L. c. 71, § 89(i)(3) and (4)) as well as the annual changes to the lowest 10 percent list, the Department will continue to work with districts and charter schools to ensure that rules regarding NSS caps are clearly understood and adequate notice is provided to all those affected.
6 It is highly unlikely that the list of districts at or near the NSS cap will change during FY2021.
7 Whether single district or regional charter schools, tuition proration would be applied to all schools if the relevant NSS cap were exceeded.
Last Updated: February 6, 2020
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
75 Pleasant Street, Malden, MA 02148-4906
Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370
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