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Washington County districts OK, deny school choice transfers

July 26, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

FARMINGTON -- Farmington schools will have 49 new kindergarten students for the 2021-22 school year who are transferring to Farmington from other districts through the state's Public School Choice law, according to Stephanie Pinkerton, assistant superintendent.

Pinkerton said she believes this is the largest group of kindergarten students the district has received through the school choice law.

In all, Farmington has 93 students who are transferring into the district through school choice, according to Kim Williamson with the administration office. The district has 37 students who have requested to transfer out of Farmington through school choice, for a net growth of 53 students.

School choice transfers into the district include 33 from Fayetteville, 41 from Prairie Grove, six each from Springdale and West Fork and one each from Bentonville, Elkins, Greenland and Rogers.

Five students from Lincoln applied to transfer through school choice. Three of these were denied by Lincoln, and one denial was appealed and approved, according to information from Williamson.

Students who are transferring out of Farmington are going to Fayetteville (15), Prairie Grove (11), Greenland (7), Springdale (3) and Pea Ridge (1).

The Arkansas Legislature passed a School Choice law in 2013, and it gives students and their families the freedom to enroll in a district other than the one in which they live. Parents can apply to a school district requesting a transfer by a May 1 deadline.

The law has some restrictions. A district may lose no more than 3% of its enrollment to school-choice transfers. It also allows a district to reject an application if the district has reached at least 90% of its maximum authorized student population in a given program, class, grade level or building.

Jon Laffoon, superintendent of Farmington schools, said the district turned down some requests from students to transfer into Farmington because it had reached the maximum for that class or grade level.

Farmington has used social media this year to feature its schools and remind parents about the May 1 deadline to apply for a school choice transfer.

"We definitely want to highlight all our outstanding teachers and programs," Laffoon said. "Academics is a big driving force behind school choice."

He said he doesn't know if any of the posts made a difference in parents and students submitting a school choice application.

Prairie Grove School District has 78 students transferring in through school choice, and 53 students transferring out through school choice, according to Darlene Burris with the administration office. Prairie Grove did not deny any school choice applications, she said.

The breakdown of school choice transfers into Prairie Grove shows 52 from Lincoln, 11 from Farmington, 10 from West Fork, one from Greenland and one from Bentonville.

The number of school choice students from Lincoln is skewed somewhat because about 20 of the students had already been attending Prairie Grove schools but were living in the Lincoln School District boundaries, according to Reba Holmes, Prairie Grove superintendent of schools.

Holmes said these students had Prairie Grove mailing addresses but were not in the Prairie Grove school district.

The district has a new registrar, and these students were found during a cleanup of the records, Holmes said.

Some of the students had been attending Prairie Grove schools for as long as 10 years but didn't have a record to show the registrar that they actually lived within the Prairie Grove school boundaries, Holmes said.

Holmes said she then contacted Lincoln Superintendent Mary Ann Spears to see if she would be willing to "grandfather" these students into Prairie Grove "and she graciously agreed."

The students used the school choice law to apply for those transfers.

Students transferring out of Prairie Grove through school choice are going to Farmington (42), Lincoln (5), West Fork (3), Springdale (2) and Elkins (1).

Spears said Lincoln has 62 students transferring out and nine students transferring into Lincoln through school choice. The transfers out include the 20 students who had been attending Prairie Grove but living in Lincoln School District, she said.

"It happens," Spears said. "Kids live in one district, and they are going to another school."

She pointed out, though, that Lincoln verifies all its students have a legal address for the Lincoln School District.

Spears said the situation with the 20 students makes it appear Lincoln has a lot of students leaving the district.

"It looks like more choice out than normal, but really it is less than last year," she said.

Spears said the district denied some school choice transfers for students to go to another district because of the 3% threshold. She said the district denied 13 requests and could have denied more but didn't.

"I tried to show grace, but I have to protect us too," Spears said, noting Lincoln has had a declining enrollment for several years and that affects state funding.

"We're not growing, and we have to watch that," Spears said.

Parents have the right to appeal a denied application, and Spears said some of the applications she denied were appealed to the State Board of Education.

Print Headline: Washington County districts OK, deny school choice transfers

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