Districts trying to prevent students from going to wrong schools

Published 6:15 pm Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Some of Mississippi’s public school districts are using new techniques to crack down on people who knowingly send their children to the wrong schools. One town is even making it a crime to do so.

Southaven, a town of about 41,000 people just south of Memphis, is implementing an ordinance that makes it a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail or up to $1,000 in fines to lie to government officials to get some kind of benefit. That includes misrepresenting a residence to get a child into a particular school.

“It’s against the law in most areas to file false police reports … so why shouldn’t it be against the law to lie to get into school, when the largest part of our tax dollars goes to fund education?” asked Greg Davis, mayor of Southaven. “I really don’t expect a whole lot of use on it, but it is another avenue in which the city can help to enforce the other rules and regulations that are in place.”

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Southaven is in DeSoto County. School officials there are also trying to curb the problem. DeSoto County School District Superintendent Milton Kuykendall said he tightened the proof-of-residency requirements. He also hired two investigators and an assistant to stem the problem in the almost 30,000-student district.

That’s not all the district has done. Like in the Clinton Public School District, DeSoto now allows residents to report out-of-district students on their Web sites.

The issue is directly related to school funding. Districts miss local tax funding when they take on students who don’t live inside their boundaries. Also, the districts where those students are supposed to go to school lose state funding because it’s based on enrollment.

The only way students can attend public schools outside their district is if both respective districts agree, state Department of Education officials have said.

In most other cases, once a district finds that a child is attending the wrong school, the child will simply be withdrawn.

Many districts don’t keep track of out-of-district students at the district level. It’s usually handled at the school level, but that’s not the case in the Clinton Public School District.

During the 2005-06 school year, Superintendent Tommye Henderson said her 4,900-student district withdrew 58 students after discovering they were attending from outside the district.

Henderson said some Clinton residents have taped students who are picked up and dropped off outside the school district to help prove they don’t live within the district.

“They don’t believe that it’s fair that they pay taxes and someone can drive from somewhere else and just get a free education,” Henderson said.