February 19, 2013

Dalton’s tuition hikes will cost $5K for new out-of-state students

By Christopher Smith

— Dalton Public Schools officials say they “know nobody is thrilled to pay more money on anything,” but tuition costs are going up, especially for new out-of-state students.

Last year, new out-of-state students paid $1,000 a year. Starting July 1, they will pay $5,000 a year. There are currently eight out-of-state students enrolled in the school system.

The increase comes from a decision by school board members after they discovered a shortfall in state funding — the state doesn’t provide money for out-of-state students — that has been from $20,000 to $27,000 in recent years. The increase was approved 3-1 at last week’s board meeting. Board member Steve Williams voted no because he “felt like the students already in the system should pay the same as other kids paying tuition. I thought we should have grandfathered those existing out-of-state kids in.”

Students already in the system are being “phased in” to a higher rate.

Officials with the state Department of Education provide school systems funding based on the size of their student body using a Quality Basic Education (QBE) formula. Each student is counted in the equation, except those who live in another state.

“We believe students bring more than monetary value to our schools,” Pat Holloway, city schools spokeswoman, said. “But this was something the board felt needed to be addressed. We don’t get any funding for students out of the state.”

According to the state Department of Education, the average annual cost to educate a city school student is $7,480. Educating a district-wide population of 7,564 students costs city school officials $56 million, which gets paid through a combination of local, state and federal funding — most of which comes from taxpayer dollars.

“We get about $3,330 for each student in QBE funding from the state department,” Theresa Perry, chief financial officer for city schools, said. “That translates to about $25 million. If a student lives out of state, we get nothing in QBE. The rest of the funding we make up from things like local property tax and federal grants.”

There are eight out-of-state students in the system now, but those students won’t have to deal with a sudden $4,000 increase when the 2013-2014 school year begins July 1. As part of the “phase in,” said Perry, families will pay $1,250 for the first child, $950 for the second and $650 for any additional child. That’s up from $1,000 for the first child, $750 for the second and $500 for any additional child. That’s also the same increase out-of-district students — students within the state but outside of the city limits — will face.

“But tuition rates change for those working in our system,” Holloway added.

Seven of the eight out-of-state students have parents working for the school system. Employees of the school system get a discounted tuition based on the number of siblings in the system. For any existing out-of-state child of an employee, tuition will be $850 a year, up from $650; for any additional child it’s another $650 (up from $400). If an employee brings in a new child, the $5,000 tuition must be paid.

“Those out-of-state students with parents already working in the system will also be phased in to a higher tuition as well,” Holloway said. “What that looks like in terms of how much, we don’t know. We review tuition costs annually. I think people are still getting a deal. Some school systems don’t even accept out-of-state students.”

What such students will pay in the 2014-2015 school year isn’t clear, Perry said, but there is a likelihood of another increase as part of the “phase in.”

“What we need to do is find a set formula,” Williams said, “rather than tinkering with tuition from year to year. We go one way or another based on who is thinking what at a specific time and I think some set formula would help us.”