JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Lawmakers have approved a plan aimed at fixing Missouri's troubled student transfer system, and it now rests with Gov. Jay Nixon, who early on voiced support for the measure but also vetoed a proposed remedy last year.
While legislative proponents have touted that the bill could give students in the state's worst-performing schools more alternatives for education, opposition to an expansion of the charter and online school options for students has tempered support.
"You're voting for a charter expansion bill," Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, told House members before the vote Tuesday as she argued that those options catered to special interests rather than student needs. "You are not voting for a student transfer bill."
Nixon's spokesman Scott Holste said in an email Wednesday that the bill "will undergo a comprehensive and fair review" once lawmakers officially send it to Nixon's desk.
At stake is months of work to update a 1993 law that requires failing districts pay for students to switch to better-performing schools. The Normandy school system in northern St. Louis County, which struggled for years before losing accreditation, in particular has faced hardships because of the tuition requirement. More than 630 students applied to transfer from Normandy this year, far more than the 500 the district had budgeted to pay for.
"There is no way to pay for that," bill sponsor Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles, said.
At the heart of the proposed fix is a provision to accredit schools by building, in addition to by the district. The bill would require students to first transfer to those better-performing schools in their district before other schooling options would be available to them. That could stem the outpouring of tuition dollars and keep students close to home, rather than busing them on longer commutes.
The measure also includes incentives for districts that charge failing schools reduced tuition.
Wood estimated more than 50 schools statewide — mostly in Kansas City and St. Louis —would be initially be unaccredited based on 2013 annual state performance scores. Some of those buildings include magnet schools, which would not be subject to provisions in the bill. Those numbers also could increase once the State Board of Education designs a process to rate schools in accredited districts as well.
Nixon vetoed another recommended fix passed last session, citing concerns with an option to transfer to private, nonreligious schools. The bill heading to Nixon this year instead would give students more options to transfer to virtual or charter schools.
Republican Sen. David Pearce of Warrensburg, who guided the bill through the Senate, said Tuesday that he has no indication that Nixon will veto the bill.
"If he vetoes that bill," said University City Democrat Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, who was one of the leaders in crafting a Senate proposal, "then that will now be on his hands."
While the bill passed 23-11 in the Senate on Tuesday, it barely scraped by in the House, where members voted 84-73 in favor of it. That's only three votes shy of failing.
Supporters admitted the bill has flaws, but argued a fix is needed to address urgent issues facing students in Normandy and other districts at risk of losing accreditation.
"It's no longer acceptable for us to turn our backs on those students and say, 'Too bad,'" Pearce said. "We as a state can offer more. We can do more."
Student transfers bill is HB 42.
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