The inter-district school choice program under G.L. c. 76, § 12B, has been in place in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since 1991.1 School choice allows families to enroll their child in a school district other than the district in which the child lives. The purpose of this advisory is to assist districts in understanding inter-district school choice under G.L. c.76, § 12B, and includes Frequently Asked Questions and Answers.
This advisory replaces the previous advisory issued in 1995. This advisory updates the previous advisory and compiles the numerous questions we have received and answered since 1995 interpreting the requirements of G.L. c.76, § 12B. The text of G.L. c. 76, § 12B is attached for easy reference.
Under the school choice law, G.L. c.76, § 12B, as amended in 1993, all school districts in Massachusetts are presumed to participate in and to admit non-resident students through school choice. See G.L. c. 76, § 12B(d) ("Each city, town or regional school district shall enroll non-resident students at the school of such non-resident student's choice; provided, however, that such receiving district has seats available"). A receiving district can withdraw from school choice only if a school committee holds a public hearing on this issue and then votes to withdraw from the school choice program prior to June 1st.2 G.L. c. 76, § 12B(d). The hearing and the school committee's vote can occur at the same meeting and may occur at a scheduled school committee meeting provided there is notice to the public that this item will be discussed and that members of the public are afforded an opportunity to participate and make their positions known to the school committee prior to the vote. A separate meeting is not required for this purpose. A school committee that intends to continue participating in school choice is not required to hold a hearing or to vote because G.L. c. 76, § 12B, contains a presumption that all school districts will participate in school choice.
A timely decision and vote by a school committee to withdraw from school choice is effective only for the following school year. The resolution on which the school committee votes to withdraw from school choice must contain the reasons for the withdrawal. While the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) does not review decisions to withdraw from school choice, the school committee must notify the Department of its vote to withdraw and the reasons for the withdrawal as soon as reasonably possible after the vote. A school committee withdrawing from school choice must continue to serve all non-resident students previously admitted through school choice. G.L. c. 76, § 12B(d).
When admitting students through school choice under G.L. c.76, § 12B, school districts may not consider or discriminate based on race, color, religious creed, national origin, sex, gender identity, age, sexual orientation, ancestry, athletic performance, physical handicap, special need,3 academic performance, or proficiency in the English language. If the number of applicants exceeds the number of available seats, the selection of students must be on a random basis. The selection process must take place prior to July 1st and again, assuming there are seats available, prior to November 1st. Once students are selected, the receiving school district4 must notify the sending district5 of the acceptance of such students.6 Neither the sending nor the receiving school district may disclose publicly the identities of student participants in school choice. G.L. c. 76, § 12B(j).
The school choice tuition for students in a regular education program is $5,000 per student.7 For students attending half-day kindergarten, tuition is $2,500 per student. For students eligible for special education, an additional increment is added to the base regular education amount to cover the cost of these services and fully reimbursed. These amounts are determined using a cost calculator similar to the one used for the circuit breaker program under G.L. c. 71B, § 5B.8 School choice students are not eligible to receive transportation services unless a student's disability requires transportation and their Individual Education Program (IEP) includes special transportation as a related service.
The state treasurer deducts school choice tuition from the sending district's total education aid, as specified in G.L. c. 70 and G.L. c. 76, § 12B(f). If there is not enough Chapter 70 aid to fund fully the school choice tuition, the treasurer deducts the remaining tuition from other state aid appropriated for the sending district. Section 12B(a) of G.L. c. 76 additionally limits school choice participation to 2 percent of the total number of students attending public schools in the Commonwealth in a given fiscal year.9 If school choice enrollment exceeds this statewide limit, tuition payments would be prorated.
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers
General Law, Chapter 76, Section 12B (G.L. c. 76, § 12B)
1 Other public educational choices for students include enrolling in their home district, charter schools, Commonwealth of Massachusetts virtual schools, vocational technical education programs, Metco, and the Massachusetts Academy of Math & Science at WPI. Private educational choices include private and parochial schools and home schooling. For additional information regarding educational choices in Massachusetts, please see Choosing a School: A Parent's Guide to Educational Choices in Massachusetts.
2 Sending school districts cannot "withdraw" from school choice.
3 Section 12B of G.L. c. 76 uses the terms "physical handicap" and "special need" but does not use the term "disability." Except when citing the specific portion of Section 12B, this advisory uses the term "disability."
4 The receiving district is the district in which a student attends school under school choice. This is also referred to as the school choice district.
5 The sending district is the district in which the student lives.
6 Additionally, the Department notifies sending districts in December and June through school choice reports.
7 Section 12B of G.L. c. 76 provides that the amount is 75% of the actual per pupil spending amount for students in the receiving district in the type of program received by the student, up to $5,000 per student. In every district, this amount has been $5,000 for a substantial number of years.
8 See also information posted at School Finance: Circuit Breaker.
9 Additional information regarding school choice and trends in enrollment through school choice can be found at School Finance: School Choice.
Last Updated: July 16, 2021
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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