Missouri K-12 District Transfer Law Ruled Unconstitutional

The Missouri law that would have allowed students to transfer out of schools in failing school districts suffered another legal defeat last week. A judge ruled that the law violated the clause in the state Constitution that prohibited the legislature from forcing unfunded mandates onto local governments.

This is the second Missouri judge to rule that the law, as written, is unenforceable. Earlier this year, the St. Louis County Circuit Judge ruled the same way in a separate legal challenge.

Although the law requires that unaccredited school districts pay the tuition of any local student attending an out-of-district school — as well as cover all associated transportation costs — districts that border the Kansas City Public Schools claim that the money wouldn't be sufficient to cover the expenses they would accrue just for obeying the law. Of the five districts bordering KCPS and suing to have the law declared invalid, Jackson County Judge Brent Powell found the arguments of three to be persuasive. In his decision, he wrote that forcing Independence, North Kansas City and Lee's Summit districts to accept KCPS students would violate the Hancock Amendment, which places a cap on public expenditures that is tied to the average income of Missouri's citizens.

 Powell also found there would be no Hancock violation in the Blue Springs and Raytown districts. Powell found that the amount collected for educating transfer students would fall short of the cost of educating those students by $5.2 million in Lee's Summit, $2.9 million in North Kansas City and $1.7 million in Independence. Powell found the Blue Springs and Raytown districts would collect enough money from the Kansas City district to educate the transfer students.

In a statement praising the decision, Independence Superintendent Jim Hinson said that while every Missouri child is entitled to quality education, it shouldn't be up to Independence taxpayers to cover the cost of education for Kansas City children.

Since the law was signed, children in unaccredited districts have been unable to take advantage of it to transfer to schools in neighboring counties. The implementation of the law is on hold pending the resolution of all the legal challenges. Theoretically, Powell's decision could allow the students to start applying for transfers into nearby schools in Blue Springs and Raytown. However, representatives of the Kansas City district say that it's unlikely that they will begin considering such applications since the portion of the ruling dealing with Blue Springs and Raytown may be challenged.

"The judge's ruling today protects the educational resources of more than 16,000 students and avoids a tragedy," said Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent R. Stephen Green in the district's written statement. "Our students have a right to high-quality resources, and this ruling prevents these resources from leaving KCPS, its students, and its teachers."

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