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Neb. Lawmakers Move To Prevent 'Double Choice'

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Nebraska's open-enrollment law appears to have left some residents with a choice not foreseen by lawmakers--opting to sign up with a school district that charges relatively low taxes, and then sending their children to a district with better--and presumably more expensive--schools.

Legislators appeared to be moving quickly last week to prevent the practice, termed "double choice," Through a package of amendments to the open-enrollment law.

A bill drafted by the unicameral legislature's education committee, Land expected to be taken up as early as late last week, bars residents of a district that affiliates with another from full participation in open enrollment for at least four years.

Double choice had threatened to occur in Class 1 districts, which have only elementary schools and in the past had paid neighboring districts to provide their children with a high-school education.

A law passed last year gave Class I districts a July 1992 deadline to affiliate or merge with other districts to provide a K-12 education.

Double choice thus became possible as residents of Class 1 districts, about 300 of which still need to affiliate, were told they could affiliate with a district with a lower tax levy and then, using open enrollment, send their children to a larger district with more opportunities.

In January, for example, the Or chard Public Schools sent a letter to residents of the Class 1 district of Page boasting of Orchard's low tax rates and describing how, through the open-enrollment law, "students may reside in one district and attend school in another" at no extra cost. The proposed amendment to the open-enrollment law would prohibit children from Class 1 districts from transferring to another system in the first year after their district affiliates. Five percent could use it after two years, 10 percent after three, and all after four.

"This is going to tell them, 'If you want your kids to go to a certain school district, you better affiliate accordingly,"' said Speaker of the Legislature Dennis G. Baack.

Larry Scherer, counsel for the education panel, said the measure would not preclude double choice but would establish attendance patterns that would discourage it.

Dale E. Siefkes, executive director of the Nebraska Association of School Boards, said his organization supported the bill.--ps

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