Legislation allowing public money to be used to pay for students in unaccredited districts to attend private schools was pared down sharply Wednesday, limiting that option to the state’s urban centers.
The change allowed the Missouri House to pass a larger bill designed as a fix to a state law that permits students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to a neighboring district, with tuition and transportation provided by the failing districts.
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It now returns to the Senate and likely a conference committee to work out differences between the two chambers.
The bill limits how much tuition a district accepting transfers can charge an unaccredited district. It also allows the receiving district to set class-size standards to stave off overcrowding.
But the most controversial measure, and one that still threatens to doom its chances, would allow local education funds to be used for students in failing schools to attend a nonreligious private institution.
Under the bill, students attending an unaccredited school would be allowed to transfer to an accredited school within the district. If there were no spots available, the original House bill allowed students to transfer to a neighboring district or to a nonreligious private school or charter school within the county or an adjoining county.
Lawmakers limited that private school option Wednesday, however, to school districts in Jackson County, the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County. Local funding could go to private schools only after a vote by local residents. Any private school that agrees to accept transfer students would have to abide by state law for public schools on student safety and performance.
“We’ve taken away every argument usually used by the education establishment against the private option,” said Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican.
Yet several Democrats panned the proposal, saying it was part of a plan to shift public funds to private schools.
“We had the ability to take out agendas and address the crisis facing this state,” said Rep. Genise Montecillo, a St. Louis Democrat. “Instead, some have chosen to take a crisis and push their agenda again.”
Kansas City Public Schools, which is currently unaccredited, is projecting it will earn at least provisional accreditation by this fall, which would end the transfer option.