JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – A Missouri Senate committee planned to move forward Thursday with legislation aimed at tackling a student transfer law and addressing struggling school districts.
Numerous bills have been filed this year, and Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce said he intends the panel to approve at last one on Thursday. Pearce said he would like the full Senate to begin debate before the Legislature’s weeklong spring break next month.
“We don’t care whose bill it is. I don’t care whose name is attached to it, we just want to get something done,” said Pearce, R-Warrensburg. “And quite honestly, I think people are looking at the Senate for some leadership.”
Missouri law requires school districts without state accreditation to pay tuition and provide transportation for students who want to attend an accredited school within the same county or a bordering one. That has happened this school year in the Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts in St. Louis County and could start in Kansas City, which also is unaccredited. Another 11 school districts are provisionally accredited.
The 1993 transfer law has created financial problems for unaccredited districts and generated concern about the ability of surrounding schools to control the number of students. Lawmakers separately are considering a $5 million rescue to get Normandy through the school year, and the State Board of Education this week imposed financial oversight over the district.
Pearce said he prefers keeping the legislation to issues tied to transfers and unaccredited schools.
“I want to have a pretty narrow and focused bill. I don’t see this as a vehicle for fundamentally changing public education in the state of Missouri,” he said.
Pearce proposes classifying schools within districts that are provisionally accredited or unaccredited. Students attending a struggling school in an unaccredited district first could transfer to a better school in their home system. If there was not space, then students could go to another district if they have lived in the unaccredited school system for at least a year. Receiving school districts would establish policies for admitting transfer students.
The measure also calls for state education officials to intervene in provisionally accredited districts and would prevent school systems from being provisionally accredited or unaccredited for more than five years at each level.
Three regional education authorities would be established to manage underperforming schools in unaccredited or provisionally accredited districts and to coordinate student transfers. There would be an authority for St. Louis, Jackson County and the rest of the state.
Missouri education officials also have been working on plans for assisting and intervening in Missouri schools. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education this week released recommendations that seek earlier interventions with greater state involvement as a school’s performance worsens.
The education department’s plan would allow school transfers to continue within unaccredited school districts.