At least seven states—Wisconsin, Minnesota, Oregon, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Florida—have formal, legislated programs enabling public schools to contract with nonpublic schools, also known as alternative schools, to serve at-risk students. (See Appendix II.) Lack of enabling legislation does not prevent school districts from contracting with nonpublic alternative schools, however. Districts in at least seventeen states contract with private providers to serve at-risk youth.42

Says Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) Alternative Program Director Fermin Burgos about the contract arrangement, "It enables MPS to provide a whole range of different options. We want tailor-made programs for pregnant teens, chronic disrupters, or students coming from juvenile institutions. With contracting, we can offer those programs. In some cases they are more effective than the traditional schools." 43

If a child is identified as being at-risk and does not qualify for special education and is not an adjudicated youth, nonpublic-school day programs are available often at a cost equal to or lower than what the referring school district spends for regular education. For example, in Minnesota only the per-pupil amount of state aide used to fund regular education may follow the at-risk student to the program site. The district retains the local revenue share plus 22 percent of the state aid to cover district-administration costs. In 1994-95, average per-pupil funding from state, local, and federal sources totaled $6,391 for Minnesota students.44 (This figure is an average for all students in the state including primary and secondary students, regular and special-education students.) By contrast, nonpublic alternative schools received between $3,150 and $3,600 per at-risk pupil depending on the student’s age.45

In most cases, referrals to contract programs are made by a parent, school counselor, or teacher to the school board or superintendent of the student’s home district. Placement in a nonpublic school is usually made with the student’s and parents’ consent. Parents, however, do not have the unilateral authority to place their student in a nonpublic school without school-district approval if they expect the placement to be publicly funded.

For more severely troubled youth (including those with emotional disabilities or a history of juvenile delinquency), referrals may come from various agencies including the school system, the juvenile justice system, child welfare authorities, private physicians and medical groups, and state institutions.