Debate Continues Over Missouri Student Transfer Law

Questions about a new student transfer bill are all the talk in Missouri, where lawmakers argue the merits and demerits of sending public money to private schools while Gov. Jason Nixon flatly opposes  SB493. The bill would allow students attending St. Louis’s unaccredited schools to transfer to nonreligious, private schools using public taxpayer money.

After eight hours of debate on the legislative floor, lawmakers decided to permit the transfers; however only on the grounds that it would be subject to local elections and solely in sample parts of the state.

Maintained by the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision the previous summer, the transfer law has permitted more than 2,200 students to transfer from the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts into higher-performing private schools in the St. Louis vicinity. The payment of tuition and transportation expenditures is mandated by law to be the responsibility of the home school districts. Both Normandy and Riverview Gardens have seen a $15 million loss for students who are going elsewhere for their education, writes Alex Stuckey for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The state officials were faced with two main problems:

  1. Whether or not to demand that the public vote on a private, nonreligious school transfer option, and
  2. How to fix tuition prices for transfer students.

Under the the new law, children must enroll and go to an unaccredited school in an unaccredited district for a semester before transferring. If they do so, they are then required to transfer to an accredited building within their district until all the seats are occupied.

After all of this, the children that still want to transfer can attend an accredited district or a charter school, reports Stuckey. In the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and adjoining counties and Jackson County, students would have an alternative: With local voter blessing, they could move to a private, nonreligious school. Local taxes would fund their tuition.

In spite of all of this, a safeguard was included:

If local voters fail to approve the private school transfer option and the district remains unaccredited for three years, students could move to private, nonreligious schools even without voter approval.

The Senate version of the transfer bill did not include a local vote, but the House version did.

Gov. Nixon quickly expressed opposition to the idea, saying that sending any public dollars to private schools is where he draws the line, reports Joe Robertson for The Kansas City Star.  But the governor did not threaten to veto the bill if that option remains in it. Robertson quoted the governor as saying:

“Such a step … would destabilize the strong foundation on which public education has stood for generations and open the floodgates for more radical voucher schemes down the road,” Nixon said.

Some schools have had to fight off bankruptcy because of so many of their students transferring.  Already in financial distress, two St. Louis area unaccredited districts have had to request emergency funds to stay open. Normandy schools requested and got $2 million in emergency money stave off bankruptcy this school year. Riverview Gardens is also in the shadow of bankruptcy within a year if it does not get a fix.