by Stacey Rosenkrantz Aronson

Summary of Alternative Education Legislation in SEDL's Southwestern Region

Arkansas Louisiana Oklahoma Texas
Background Information* Act 830 (1991) required school districts to create alternative education programs for students facing difficulties in the regular schools. Act 597 (1995) clarified reporting requirements. In 1993, Act 1288 established the Pygmalion Commission on Nontraditional Education. The group develops proposals for alternative methods of meeting children's educational needs. The members represent many groups involved with children, ranging from local superintendents to state legislators and medical professionals. The governor appoints 14 of the 16 members and the remaining 2 are appointed by the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate. Act 671 (1994) required suspended and expelled students to attend an alternative education program beginning in the school year 1995-96. Before the requirement went into effect, Act 102 (1995) added the provision that this requirement is only applicable for students suspended for more than 10 days or expelled. School systems may apply to the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on a school year to school year basis for a waiver from these requirements for economic reasons. Although it previously funded programs, Oklahoma passed its first alternative education legislation establishing Alternative Approaches Grants in 1992. These grants award funds to local education agencies or nonprofit organizations for programs serving at-risk students. In 1994, House Bill 2640 required a statewide district needs assessment of alternative education. The state also established Alternative Education Academy Grants for grades 6-12 programs serving high need districts. The state also funds technical assistance centers to recommend programs for funding, provide training and technical assistance, and evaluate grant-funded programs for state validation. Senate Bill 1 (1995) takes steps toward eliminating traditional suspension and expulsion by requiring the creation of alternative education programs in the public school system, and, for the most serious offenders, the juvenile justice system.
(1) Every school district, either alone or cooperatively, must establish an alternative learning environment. Districts with enrollment above 2,000 were required to have such an alternative by 1993-94; those above 1,000 by 1994-95; and all others by 1995-96. (2) Each district must adopt student discipline policies that include, but are not limited to, the guidelines established by the Department of Education. The policies must include provisions for placing students with disciplinary, socially dysfunctional, or behavioral problems not associated with a handicapping condition in an alternative learning environment provided by the district. (3) Each district must submit an assurance statement that it is complying with these requirements. (1) Suspended or expelled students must remain under the supervision of the governing authority of their school system by attending an alternative education program. (2) The school system is not required to provide transportation to any suspended or expelled students in an alternative education program if providing such transportation will incur additional costs. The school system is not liable for students providing their own transportation. (1) House Bill 2640 mandated each district to assess their need for alternative education and submit a plan developed in collaboration with the community. The State Department of Education developed a statewide plan that included cost estimates and a proposed five-year implementation schedule. (2) House Bill 2640 also mandated the identification of high need districts (based on the number of county juvenile referrals and dropouts in the district), and required them to apply for Alternative Education Academy Grants. Eight districts were identified, funded and assisted in developing pilot programs. The proposed plan is that these eight programs would continue and more would be added each year. (1) Each district, either alone or cooperatively, must provide a separate alternative setting for students removed from classrooms. As of school year 1996-1997, counties with a population over 125,000 must also develop a juvenile justice alternative program for eligible expelled students. (2) Each district must adopt a student code of conduct that includes, but is not limited to, the guidelines in the bill. The code must outline conditions under which students may be removed from the classroom, campus or alternative education program; transferred to an alternative program; or suspended or expelled. It must also outline the responsibilities of the juvenile board for implementing the county program and of the district for payment to the board.
The Department of Education establishes criteria for teacher preparation for the alternative environment, including inservice training. Districts or programs must (1) assess students either before or upon entry into the program, and (2) provide nonpunitive intervention services to address the specific educational and behavioral needs of individual students. Alternative education programs offer variations of traditional instructional programs to increase the likelihood that students who are unmotivated, unsuccessful or disruptive in the traditional school will remain in school and obtain a high school diploma. They may include, but not be limited to, programs that hold students to strict standards of behavior in highly structured and controlled environments, sometimes referred to as "boot camps" or "court schools". Programs must be approved by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. All grant programs must provide: intake and screening; certified teachers; state required and remedial courses; individualized instruction; clear, measurable goals; counseling and social services; individualized graduation plans; life skills instruction; collaborations with local youth agencies; and an evaluation. Academy Grant programs must also provide: student/teacher ratios and instructional practices conducive to learning for at-risk students; teachers qualified to work with at-risk students; collaborations with state youth agencies; arts education opportunities; and an annual budget. The district's alternative education program, whether on or off the regular school campus, must separate students attending the program from those who are not. It must address educational and behavioral needs-focusing on English language arts, mathematics, science, history and self-discipline, and including supervision and counseling. The program may provide for students' transfer to a different campus, a school community guidance center, or a community-based alternative school.
Accountability Every year the district must report to the Department of Education the race, gender and other pertinent characteristics of students placed in an alternative learning environment. School systems are not liable for any student attending an alternative education program at a location other than a school site. All funds received and expended for students in Alternative Education Academies shall be reported annually to the State Department of Education. Districts must report the number of students placed in alternative programs. Students in programs are included in the average daily membership of their regularly assigned campus.
Funding Act 1194 (1995) included a line item appropriation totaling $30,005,000 for At-risk Grants & Training for 1995-1996. Programs funded by the line item included alternative learning and other programs. Methods used to fund these programs varied from legislated add-on weights to grants developed by SBoE rules and regulations. As of 1996-1997, the school funding formula eliminates add-on weights and establishes school district expenditure requirements that set a minimum dollar amount local school districts must spend from state and local revenues on alternative education. No money is specifically set aside for alternative education, however, programs may receive funds through public school funding for at-risk students through the Minimum Foundation Program (M.F.P.) formula. For all grants, monies for fourth and fifth consecutive years are 50% and 25%, respectively, of the average award for the first three years. These monies must be matched with local funds or in-kind contributions. Fifth year funding is contingent upon state-validation and replication by another district. Programs lose eligibility after five consecutive years. At least 20% of Alternative Approaches Grants dollars go to districts replicating state-validated programs. The proposed five year implementation schedule for Academy Grants would fund an additional 20% of schools each year, until all are included in the fifth year. The proposed per pupil incentive funding provides $1000 for the first year; $750 for the second; and $500 for the third and future years of the program. The district allocates to the alternative education program (or the juvenile board) funds equal to its per student expenditure for each student in the program. To assist districts in providing alternative education programs, the guaranteed yield will increase by approximately $0.12 in 1996 at a cost of $25 million to the state.

* New Mexico does not require alternative education. HB 21 (1995) proposed to allow alternative schools to qualify for public school formula size adjustment funds, but did not pass.

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Published in Insights on Educational Policy, Practice, and Research Number 6, December 1995, Alternative Learning Environments (Summary of Alternative Education Legislation)