Missouri’s Republican legislative leaders say advancing previously unsuccessful legislation to allow students to transfer out of failing schools will be a top priority next session.
This time, they say, they’re hopeful early talks with the governor will prevent another veto.
Both House Speaker nominee John Diehl and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey said lawmakers still need to address flaws in the transfer policy, which officials from some school districts have said is financially crippling. Current law requires unaccredited school districts to pay tuition for students to transfer to better-performing schools.
Lawmakers have tried in previous years to overhaul the 1993 student transfer law. Last session, they sent Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon a bill that would have required students to first switch to better schools in their home district and created a second option of transferring to a private school. Nixon vetoed it because of the private school provision.
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Republicans and Democrats were frustrated last session that Nixon didn’t voice concerns sooner.
The governor has already met with lawmakers and legislative leaders to try to find consensus on the issue, which Dempsey called “a problem that needs to be solved.” Nixon spokeswoman Channing Ansley said in a statement that the governor and his staff “continue to have productive discussions with legislators on both sides of the aisle.”
Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal of University City, one of several lawmakers who’ve proposed similar or identical versions of last session’s bill, said Nixon had a lack of “original ideas” that she said was “not acceptable.”
“This session,” Chappelle-Nadal said, “he knows we’re serious about it.”
The only unaccredited district in Missouri is Riverview Gardens, located in a St. Louis suburb.
Chappelle-Nadal and Republican Sen. David Pearce of Warrensburg’s bills would only apply transfer policies to kindergarten through eighth-grade schools, and students would not be able to transfer to unaccredited or provisionally accredited schools.
Lawmakers also want incentives for districts that charge lower rates of tuition for transfer students. Those students’ test scores would not be counted in state performance ratings for the next five years.
“Those are the sorts of provisions that are worthy of consideration,” Missouri School Boards’ Association spokesman Brent Ghan said. He said some form of financial relief is necessary for unaccredited districts, but said the association opposes any bill that would allow transfers to private schools.
Diehl and Dempsey both said they’re willing to nix the option to transfer to nonreligious private schools if that means the bill will get the governor’s approval. Current drafts of legislation would require voters to OK allowing students to transfer to private schools, although it wouldn’t be necessary if a district is unaccredited for three years or more.
Diehl and Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, who is to succeed Diehl as majority leader in the 2015 session, said they’re open to expanding charter schools or allowing transfers to those schools.
Meanwhile, Chappelle-Nadal, Pearce and others said they’re willing to negotiate to prevent another veto, although Republican lawmakers have the numbers to override one.
“At the end of the day I do want something to pass,” Pearce said. “We’ve got to act.”