As students of Enterprise City Schools make their way to their first day of class, parents of some students are following close behind with a check in hand.
Enterprise City schools passed a tuition schedule in April, charging guardians of students who live outside of the district a fee to attend the city’s schools. However, military families that were offered open enrollment into any school system of their choice upon arrival to the area think their children should be able to forgo the fees.
The current rate for out-of-district students is $150 per student. However, the fees are intended to heighten to $250 for each of the first two students and $125 for each additional student before the 2019-20 school year. The year after will have a $500 fee for each of the first two students and cost $250 for each additional student, and the 2021-22 school year is projected to feature costs of $750 for each of the first two students, with $375 tacked on for each additional student.
Superintendent Greg Faught highlighted that there were two considerable motivations behind the tuition rates.
The city’s schools are some of the best in the area, Faught said, and offer unique programs to students that schools in surrounding areas do not offer, not because of lack of desire, but because of cost. However, continuing the advanced learning opportunities the schools offer requires additional funds, and to have those funds, tuition was necessary, Faught said.
“We want to offer our students the best educational opportunities that we can, but that requires funding,” Faught continued. “Right now we spend less per student than some of the surrounding districts.”
The amount of money allocated to each student is spread thin due to the high number of students attending schools in the district. Faught said that tuition should alleviate some of the financial tenderness within the schools, as well as aid in maintaining high performing facilities that can accommodate a high volume of students.
Currently those that live and shop in Enterprise pay taxes that are streamlined into the schools. However, the tuition applies to those that live outside of the district because the sales tax on items from outside of the city are not allocated toward Enterprise City Schools.
For military members like Chris Maddox, it is not the tuition rates that come as a shock, it is the fact that active duty military children living outside of the district, that have been attending the schools for many years, are not grandfathered into school tuition-free.
Maddox has two sons, aged eight and 13, that attend Enterprise City Schools. The family moved to the area about a year ago due to the Staff Sergeant being an instructor and writer on the Fort Rucker military base.
The family rented a house with an Enterprise address, which lies just outside of the city’s limits. He said he still does all of his shopping in the city limits, and pays the same sales tax on everything he buys just like those that live in the area. Though Maddox has the option to shop on Fort Rucker tax-free, the inconvenience of the long drive to the post does not make the trip worth it, he said.
Chris and his family were given the option to choose which district they would like to enroll their children in because of their active duty military status. They, like many other military families, chose schools throughout Enterprise.
“We move a lot because of my job. I would hate to have to pull my children from schools where they already have friends and relationships with their teachers because of the tuition, and put them in a school down the road when we shouldn’t have to,” said Maddox.
Maddox took to Facebook to ask military parents how they were affected by the tuition rates. More than 340 comments appeared in less than 48 hours from concerned parents in similar situations.
One of the most prominent issues concerned a form known as a Federal Impact Aid Survey.
Cities that are considered a community of a military installation are eligible to receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education to help support schools military children are enrolled in. Military parents believe that such funds should aid in alleviating the current tuition for Enterprise City Schools.
Faught said that although the schools do receive some funding from the federal government because of the survey, it is not nearly as much as some parents may think. Those that live on Fort Rucker get $1,988 from the survey, which is the standard cost that most parents in the area pay to send their child to school, but those that complete the form that live outside of the post only bring in $150 per student. The form is also used for those who live in federal housing or work on the military installment, but their surveys only bring the schools about $99 per child, Faught said.
Maddox said that even without any federal aid, “we were told when we moved here that we could choose a school we wanted to see our kids thrive in. But now we have to pay for an education that our children were promised… it would be different if we had just gotten here and knew about the tuition. But when we set our family up in our home, we had no idea we would be charged to put our kids through school even though we live just miles outside of the city.”
The fees are due on the first day of school, and Faught said there are currently 1,291 students set to return to Enterprise City Schools and pay tuition with more expected to turn in fees as the last month of summer continues.
Faught said that he respects the military for their service and sacrifices; however the set tuition rates will not change for this year. The fee schedule is subject to change at the discretion of the school board, he said.
“I understand that what’s done this year is done. But we can’t roll on our backs on this. We can’t let this happen,” Maddox said.