Wisconsin’s Constitution entitles a pupil to a free education in the school district in which she or he resides:
Art. X Sec. 3. The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment of district schools … and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years….
Residency for purposes of elementary and secondary education is not defined in statute. The Wisconsin Supreme Court first addressed the definition of residency for this purpose in State Ex Rel. School-District Board V. Thayer, State Superintendent, 74 Wis. 48, 41 N.W. 1014. (1889). (Thayer).
Under Thayer, a child is a resident of the district where he or she lives, regardless of where his or her parent lives, unless the child is there “for the sole purpose of having the privileges of the public school of the district to which he may be transferred.”
Thus, a foster child placed by an agency or court is a resident of the school district in which the foster parents reside. Conversely, a child placed by her or his parents with a relative for the purpose of attending school in the district in which the relative resides is not a resident for school purposes and is not entitled to a free education in that school district.
A child whose parents are divorced or separated and who lives with each parent part of the time may be considered to be a resident of both districts and may attend either or both as a resident. There is no requirement that the child live more than 50% in one parent’s district or the other.
Clarification Regarding Residency; Constitutional Requirements, Compulsory Attendance and Fiscal Implications for Students Living Away From Their Parents
If a pupil moves from one school district to another school district, the pupil’s resident school district changes as a result. In most cases, the pupil enrolls and attends school in the new resident school district. However, often the pupil wishes continue to attend the former school district. The pupil may do so under either a “tuition waiver due to a move” or public school open enrollment or both.
For example, for a child who moves from District A to District B in October, a tuition waiver guarantees that the child may continue to attend District A for the remainder of that school year. However, the child may only continue to attend District A in future years if the pupil applies and is approved for open enrollment in District A.
In some cases, the pupil may move from District A to District B and wants to attend school in District C. In this case, the pupil is not eligible for a tuition waiver and must apply for open enrollment. The pupil may either apply during the annual February-April application period in anticipation of the move or may apply at the time of the move using the alternative application procedure.
Tuition Waiver Matrix 2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18 school years
PI 9419-A - Request for Tuition Waiver due to a Move, 2016-17 School Year
Bulletin 14-01 - Information for Home Buyers, Renters and Realtors
If a pupil has attained senior status while a resident of a school district, the pupil may complete the senior year in that school district, even if the pupil is no longer a resident of that district.
Each school board determines whether a pupil has attained senior status. Where there is no policy, many school boards consider the pupil to have attained senior status upon completion of the junior year.
Once a pupil has attained senior status, the pupil may continue to attend the school district until the pupil graduates or until the end of the school term in which the pupil turns 21.
In some instances, a pupil may be planning to move to a school district and wants to begin attending school before becoming a resident of the school district. Under certain circumstances, a “nine-week waiver” may be the best way to accomplish this. Wis. Stats. § 121.81 (2) (a) provides:
121. 81 (2) (a) A pupil whose parent or legal custodian is a resident of this state but not a resident of the school district may file with the school board of the district a written application for enrollment in the schools of the school district. The application shall be accompanied by a written declaration of the parent or legal custodian that the parent or legal custodian will establish residence in the school district by a specified time. If facilities are adequate, the school board may permit the pupil to enroll in the schools of the school district, and may require prepayment of a tuition fee for 9 school weeks or may waive the tuition requirement for that pupil. If the parent or legal custodian establishes residence in the school district within such 9 school weeks, the school board shall refund the tuition fee. If such residence is not established there shall be no refund of the tuition fee but another written application for enrollment may be filed for the next succeeding 9 school weeks and, upon prepayment of a tuition fee for such 9 school weeks, the school board may permit the pupil to reenroll. If the parent or legal custodian establishes residence in the school district within the second 9 school weeks, the school board shall refund the tuition fee for the second 9 school weeks.
Under Wis. Stats. § 121.84 (1) (c), a school board may permit a foreign exchange student to attend school in the school district without payment of tuition.
It is not required for the student’s host family to reside in the school district of attendance.
Given the availability of various types of tuition waivers, regular open enrollment and alternative open enrollment, the necessity for parents to pay tuition is relative rare. However, there may be instances in which the only way a pupil can attend a nonresident school district is through parent-paid tuition, such as:
- The pupil is not a resident of Wisconsin.
- The pupil cannot open enroll for 4-year-old kindergarten because the pupil’s resident district does not have 4-year-old kindergarten.
Parent-paid tuition is the same as the open enrollment aid payment amount, which is prorated for less than full-time enrollment.
For example, the open enrollment aid payment amount in the 2014-15 school year was $6,635. Thus, tuition for a pupil in grades K-12 would be $6,635. For 4-year-old kindergarten, depending on the type of program, the amount would be 50% ($3,317.50) or 60% ($3,981). For 5-year-old kindergarten, depending on the type of program, the amount would be 50%, 60%, 80% ($5,308) or 100%.
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