KENTLAND, Ind. (AP) — A northwest Indiana school district has been ordered to repay more than $750,000 in student tuition support after an audit found school officials intentionally enrolled students from adjacent Illinois.
The investigative report released Thursday by the State Board of Accounts found that the South Newton School Corp. enrolled Illinois children between 2014 and 2020 but reported those out-of-state students to the Indiana Department of Education as residents of Newton County, Indiana.
The State Board of Accounts ordered the district to repay $751,907.53 in student tuition support — money the auditors claim the district used to educate children school officials knew were Illinois residents, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported.
The audit found that the district had six Illinois students during the 2014-15 school year, before that enrollment peak at 34 in 2018-19 and then fell to 27 during the 2019-20 school year.
The district's schools are located in Kentland, the Newton County seat about 13 miles directly east of Sheldon, Illinois. Students from Sheldon are supposed to attend classes in Milford, Illinois.
South Newton School Corp. attorney Sara Blevins insisted the district followed Indiana law, asserting that state law does not distinguish between in-state transfer students and out-of-state transfer students.
Indiana schools enrolling out-of-state students are therefore entitled to full tuition support for each student, she said, arguing that there is no basis for the State Board of Accounts to demand repayment.
Indiana law permits out-of-state students to attend schools in the Hoosier State, provided they pay the full cost of their attendance.
In this case, the audit found the district initially reported the Illinois students as out-of-state residents, but then changed their residency to Newton County after the Indiana Department of Education identified the out-of-state students as ineligible for state tuition support.