JEFFERSON CITY — Public school leaders across the state have implored Missouri legislators to change a student transfer law for years, warning it could result in overcrowded suburban classrooms and bankrupt urban schools.
By JASON HANCOCK
The Stars Jefferson City correspondent
Now they say their fears are beginning to play out in the St. Louis area. Two unaccredited school districts are being forced to pay tuition for their students to attend school in neighboring districts, with the possibility of Kansas City joining them next year.
On Tuesday, a joint committee of the Missouri House and Senate heard a laundry list of possible solutions.
Both lawmakers and advocates are hopeful that the fear of potential crisis will finally create the right atmosphere for progress. But years of legislative gridlock on the issue leave many wondering whether a legislative response is possible.
I think theres a window here, with everyone coming together concerned about the crisis of the moment, that it may give us an opportunity to create a truly innovative plan, said Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro.
Proposed changes included changing the way tuition is calculated for transferring students and allowing a receiving district to limit the number of new students it accepts.
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, suggested accrediting school buildings instead of school districts. That would let families send their kid to a neighboring school as opposed to a neighboring district.
But any possible legislative fix is expected to open the door for a host of other initiatives that have sunk previous attempts at education legislation.
Kate Casas, state director of the Childrens Education Alliance, advocated for several of those ideas Tuesday, saying no transfer change would be successful without providing students in failing districts with more choices.
Families need more options, Casas said, not fewer.
Those choices, Casas said, include making it easier for charter schools to open and providing tuition assistance for students to attend private or parochial schools.
Each of those ideas has faced stiff resistance over the years, especially from rural Republican lawmakers who fear they would damage the states public school system. And their inclusion could put any transfer legislation in jeopardy.
The debate centers on a 1993 law that permits families in unaccredited school districts to enroll in accredited districts, with tuition and transportation provided by the failing districts.
This summer, almost a quarter of students in the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts in St. Louis County applied for transfer after the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the law.
Normandy officials told lawmakers theyd need an additional $6.8 million in state funds to avoid going bankrupt before the end of the school year. Riverview Gardens could run out of money next year.
The transfer law has not been implemented in Kansas City, with schools waiting on a separate ruling from the state Supreme Court.
Arguments in that case will be heard today.
To reach Jason Hancock, call 573-634-3565 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.