St. Louis Transfer Ruling Would Flood Suburban Schools

A new poll by the University of Missouri-St. Louis shows that up to 13,500 (close to a quarter of all) school-age children in St. Louis would leave for county schools if a Missouri Supreme Court decision were to stand, writes Elisa Crouch at STL Today.

Suburban school superintendents have long speculated what the impact might be if the ruling was successful. It is a case that could throw open the doors to better schools for students in struggling districts, giving parents the choice to send their children tuition-free to any public school in St. Louis County.

Of the total children that could move, it has been estimated that as many as 8,300 would come from unaccredited St. Louis Public Schools. This transfer could potentially drain the district of about one-third of its student population.

Conversely, the ruling could overcrowd suburban classrooms and potentially bankrupt St. Louis Public Schools and the unaccredited Riverview Gardens School District. The districts could be faced with tuition bills of over $10,000 per student if such transfers from their districts were allowed.

“This study just reaffirms the fact that we’ve got to get this issue clarified and resolved in court just like the Supreme Court asked us to,” said Chris Tennill, spokesman for the Clayton district, whose officials commissioned the study as part of their defense.

In the survey, parents were given a choice between the six highest-performing districts in the region based on state test scores: Brentwood, Clayton, Kirkwood, Ladue, Lindbergh and Rockwood.

“Of the estimated 13,500 students whose parents say they’d transfer them to county schools, almost 3,160 of the children have individual education plans that require some level of special education.”

Elkin Kistner, the attorney representing the parents, said the poll is speculative and irrelevant.

“Normally courts do not engage in speculation about problems,” he said.

“The courts are only supposed to resolve concrete controversies. The Clayton School District is trying to make this something this isn’t. They’re trying to make this a game of rumination.”

But county school district officials attest that they don’t have enough classroom space to comply with the ruling, which does not allow them to turn children away for space reasons, while officials in the unaccredited St. Louis Public Schools and Riverview Gardens say they cannot afford tuition for thousands of students would be (according to the study, anyway) likely to leave.

“There are so many unknowns here it’s difficult to respond to any questions,” said St. Louis Superintendent Kelvin Adams. “My number one priority is to get kids in this district where they need to be academically.”