JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – For the second time this year, the Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a state law requiring unaccredited schools to pay for students to attend class elsewhere.
The court’s unanimous decision Tuesday applies to the Kansas City School District and its suburban neighbors. A similar ruling earlier this year dealt with St. Louis area schools and has resulted in a couple thousand students exiting the troubled Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts.
At issue is a 1993 Missouri law that requires unaccredited school districts to cover the costs for students to attend a nearby accredited school. Kansas City’s public schools have been unaccredited since 2012, but student transfers have been on hold because of the legal challenge.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected an assertion that the student transfer law amounted to an unfunded mandate on local schools that violated the state constitution. Instead, the court reaffirmed its June decision in the case involving St. Louis area schools and said the law shifts responsibility for educating students.
The law “does not mandate a new or increased level of activity but merely reallocates responsibilities among school districts,” Supreme Court Judge Laura Denvir Stith wrote in the court’s decision.
An attorney who argued before the high court that the transfer law is an unfunded mandate did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.
Kansas City has about 15,000 students in kindergarten through high school. Students have not transferred from Kansas City during the legal dispute, but the district’s superintendent has said the potential student transfers could cost the district $60 million to $150 million from a $268 million budget.
After the Supreme Court’s previous decision, there was acrimony in the St. Louis area when students were allowed for the first time to transfer out of the Riverview Gardens and Normandy school systems. Figures reported at the start of the academic year indicate 1,451 students transferred from Riverview Gardens and 1,189 left Normandy.
State education officials in September recommended $6.8 million of state aid for Normandy, which is projected to run out of money in March. The request would require approval from the governor and Legislature.
Several state lawmakers have proposed legislation for their 2014 legislative session starting in January that deals with the transfer law.
Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce said Tuesday the issue already had everyone’s attention and that the court’s ruling dealing with the Kansas City area magnifies the situation.
“It’s very important for us to come up some solutions on the transfer law,” said Pearce, R-Warrensburg. “That being said, I don’t feel it was a surprise to anyone how the Supreme Court ruled. I think that keeps it very consistent with some past rulings.”
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