Missouri harms families with bungled school transfer policy

06/25/2014 12:32 PM

06/25/2014 3:41 PM

Kansas City has so far managed to avoid most of the chaos surrounding Missouri’s debacle of a school transfer policy.

For that we should all be forever grateful.

Conflicting agendas and sheer ineptitude from Missouri and its legislature have created a tragedy in the St. Louis region. About 350 students from the unaccredited Normany School District have been told they can’t return to the Francis Howell School District, which they attended last school year under the transfer policy.

These kids and their families, who already have suffered from educational upheaval, now have no choice but to return to the failed Normandy district, which has been taken over by the state.

In this story by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a mom explains how she broke the news to her daughter, who will attend seventh grade at the end of the summer — but not at the school she attended last year.

“I’ve told her that this is just a political game and you are just a pawn,” is what Lorrine Goodloe says she told her daughter, Naomi.

How heartbreakingly accurate.

What’s known in Missouri as “the transfer problem” has been festering for years, and recent actions by the General Assembly and Board of Education have made it worse.

Years ago, lawmakers wrote into a bill that students in unaccredited districts could transfer into neighboring districts that are accredited by the state. That sounded good on paper, but putting it into practice has been a nightmare.

The Normandy district spent $900,000 last year to bus about 500 students to the Francis Howell District. More than 400 other students transferred into different districts and provided their own transportation. The Normandy district was required to pay tuition to the receiving districts; Francis Howell charged $11,034 per student. The costs of transportation and tuition ruined what was left of the district’s finances.

The state Board of Education recently decided to end the Normandy School District as it has existed. The board declared the district lapsed, disbanded its elected board and replaced it with a state-run district called the Normandy Schools Collaborative. With that, the state board wiped out the requirement for neighboring schools to receive Normandy’s transfer students.

Parents are now understandably fearful that other districts that took in transfer students last year will follow the lead of the Francis Howell district. Plus, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is recommending that tuition payments for the transferring students be reduced, in most cases.

The state legislature, whose waffling on a fix for the transfer law created the problem in Normandy, passed a bill this year that does little to resolve the issue and adds a whole new can of worms to the soup by opening the door to school vouchers for some students in unaccredited districts.

Gov. Jay Nixon has vetoed that bill, and we will learn in September whether the legislature will sustain his decision. Either way, it won’t have much of an effect on Normandy.

Or Kansas City, fortunately. Only 24 students applied to transfer out of the Kansas City Public Schools, which is unaccredited but hoping to regain a provisional accreditation status pending the results of its next state report. At this point, that would be the best-case scenario.

What’s gone on with Normandy has provided a textbook case of how NOT to deal with failing school systems. Politically powerful groups and their allies in the legislature love the idea of giving students and families an “escape” from failing schools. But in bungling the transfer issue so badly, they have managed to deal families even more anxiety and harm.

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