Residency rule near for Arizona students

New state law requires proof; local districts worried about effects
2012-03-26T00:00:00Z 2012-03-26T06:25:44Z Residency rule near for Arizona studentsCarmen Duarte and Alexis Huicochea Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

All parents of students attending preschool through 12th grade in Arizona public schools will need to fill out new forms showing proof of residency for the upcoming school year.

The forms meet Arizona Department of Education requirements that determine whether a student lives in the state. That is determined by the residency of the parent or guardian with whom the student lives.

The requirements and forms were distributed to public schools in the fall and are based on a new law passed by the Legislature during the last session, said Andrew LeFevre, a spokesman for the state Department of Education.

The Tucson Unified School District - the city's largest school district - serves more than 31,000 Hispanic students. The district receives on average $4,900 per student each year in state funding.

Though the district does not anticipate that the change will make much of an impact in terms of enrollment, there is reason to believe that it will cause increased anxiety in the Latino community, said TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone.

Currently, TUSD students have been required to provide only proof of residency when enrolling in a new school, but under the Arizona Department of Education guidelines, that will now have to be done annually.

Though providing proof on an annual basis may seem simple enough, it's another requirement that both parents and schools will be accountable for, Pedicone said.

"When the law was proposed, we had some concerns," Pedicone said. "It's already difficult - especially with all of the other things going on in this state - for many Hispanic families to trust that they're going to be safe when coming to events or getting engaged in our schools.

"We will continue to work to assure them that they are safe, but no matter how hard we try to guarantee that, something like this further exacerbates that fear."

Manuel L. Isquierdo, superintendent of the Sunnyside Unified School District, expressed a similar sentiment.

"We're very concerned as a district about the new regulations," Isquierdo said. "It's just another bureaucratic step.

"Our concern is that this is only designed to address the issue of undocumented families, and we're opposed to it. We will comply, but it's another example of policies or statutes that are unfriendly to Latino-serving districts."

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who sponsored the legislation - SB 1141 - said the state Department of Education has "documented examples of people coming over the border, getting on our school buses, going to school and then going back home to Mexico.

"I don't think we should use our tax dollars to pay for people who are not supposed to be here. I don't think our tax dollars should be going to educate citizens who are not of this country. This is all on our dime. Taxpayer money should go to taxpayer children - taxpayer citizens.

"If you are going to use our schools, then you should pay for it. I can't say it any more clearly than that," Smith said.

LeFevre said the requirements have "nothing to do with showing if you are in the country legally or illegally. All it is asking is to show that you are a resident of Arizona."

Under state law, "only Arizona residents are entitled to a free public education," and the state Department of Education "may audit schools to ensure that only Arizona resident students are reported for state aid."

It is the responsibility of the school district to determine that residency records are accurate and verifiable, and a district that cannot may be required to repay the state aid received for each questionable student, according to the Department of Education.

The Sunnyside district has nearly 18,000 students - 88 percent of whom are Hispanic. It receives about $4,000 per student each year in state funding.

Javier Baca, Sunnyside's executive director of information technologies, said there has always been ambiguity about what is satisfactory proof of state residency until now.

The regulations make it very clear what documents are allowed, and there is one form that will help families who do not live in their own home or have documents proving residency, Baca said. He said the district will provide notaries to families who need them, since one form must be notarized.

What is new

• Parents must fill out an Arizona Residency Documentation Form from the state Department of Education with a copy of a document that shows the parent's or guardian's name and the address or a physical description of the property where the student lives.

Documents a parent can show include an Arizona driver's license, U.S. passport, real estate deed or mortgage documents, property tax bill, lease or rental agreement, utility bills, bank or wage statements, or state, tribal or federal government agency documentation.

• If parents cannot show the required documents, then they must provide a notarized affidavit from an Arizona resident who attests that the parent and their child are living with them.

The Affidavit of Shared Residence must also be accompanied by documents that show proof of address for the person who is providing shelter for the family.

On StarNet: Find more on SB 1070, border deaths, deportations and other immigration-related news at azstarnet.com/border

Did you know

Two years ago, then-state School Superintendent Tom Horne sought $1.2 million from the Ajo School District after an audit claimed that it illegally enrolled Mexican students as Arizona residents.

Horne focused on this issue for years, using investigators to videotape students crossing the border at the Lukeville Port of Entry and boarding buses to Ajo schools.

The Ajo School District appealed the decision and worked with the Arizona Department of Education to mitigate the claims through an administrative hearing in October 2010, said Ajo Superintendent Robert Dooley.

Ajo School District attorneys reduced the claim from $1.2 million to $600,000, Dooley said. The district has paid $120,000.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or cduarte@azstarnet.com or Alexis Huicochea at 573-4175 or ahuicochea@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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