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Restrictions Proposed for Student District Transfers

Christina Turner
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Photo: KMOX

Photo: KMOX

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX/Capitol Bureau) - Missouri representatives want to give the State Board of Education authority to restrict where students from unaccredited districts can transfer.

Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis, is sponsoring a bill creating a statewide achievement school district as a political subdivision to which the board must transfer all under-performing schools in an unaccredited district. The bill also requires the state board to provide assistance teams to borderline and provisionally accredited districts and to continue monitoring schools assigned to an unaccredited district.

“I’m trying to protect the receiving districts from being overwhelmed with more students than they can handle,” Stream said. “The sending districts, I’m trying to protect them by reducing the tuition payments that are being sent to the receiving districts.”

Rep. Mike Cierpiot, R-Jackson County, presented a bill enabling the state to pay for students from unaccredited districts to attend private schools. The bill gives public schools complete control over student and teacher ratios and class sizes. Once superintendents within a reasonable bus ride say they can take no more kids, transfer students can choose to attend private schools funded by tax credits.

Mike Lodewegen is the Missouri School Administrators Association legislative advocate. He said current bills focus solely on school choice.

“Transfers are not a school improvement plan whatsoever,” Lodewegen said. “We have the St. Louis public school system to look at right now. They’ve had transfers for years. Has it done anything to turn around that school district? That’s what we’re talking about today.”

Members of the state House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education expressed concerns that these proposals may be moving problems from one school to another to be masked by the receiving school’s population. Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis County, said she fears commonalities between unaccredited schools are not being considered.

“When we look at districts that are unaccredited, the common thread is that they have very, very high poverty rates,” Montecillo said. “If receiving districts aren’t equipped to deal with some of the issues that these students bring with them, it could be worse.”

A spokesperson from Missouri National Education Association also addressed concerns about a provision of the bill. The provision would rank each school building on an individual basis, rather than by district.

Otto Fagan said school districts like Columbia have successfully self-corrected by redistributed schools if they have had an underperforming building.

“We ask you to think twice about stepping in before the district has a change to respond,” Fagan said.

He also said individual ranking won’t adequately identify “problem schools” if a successful district has redistributed the buildings.

The committee made no immediate action regarding the bill.

Hanna Battah contributed to this report.

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