Summer Ballentine/Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – A plan aimed at fixing issues with Missouri’s flawed student transfer law won final House passage Tuesday, narrowly scraping enough votes to send the bill to the Senate.

The 84-73 vote two shy of failing hands off the bill to the upper chamber, where it needs a final vote of approval before it can go to Gov. Jay Nixon.

Lawmakers have been working for two years to find an alternative to the current system, which mandates that failing districts pay for students to switch to better-performing schools.

The Normandy school system, which struggled for years before losing accreditation, in particular has faced hardships because of the tuition requirement. More than 630 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.

The legislation aims to give students more options while reducing the financial burden on the state’s worst schools.

At the heart of the proposal is a provision to accredit schools by building, in addition to by the district as a whole. The idea is that individual buildings might do well, even if the district performs poorly. That could stem the outpouring of tuition dollars and keep students close to home, rather than busing them on longer commutes.

Students in the city of St. Louis and urban areas which include St. Joseph, Kansas City, St. Louis County and others would be able to transfer out of their home district if no seats are available in better-rated schools.

The bill also gives more options for students to transfer to virtual and charter schools. Students in failing buildings and districts, provisionally accredited districts and parts of Jackson and St. Louis counties could opt to attend a virtual or online school after a semester in traditional public school. New charter schools also could open in Jackson County and St. Louis County.

Those alternatives were offered this year in lieu of a private school option that led Nixon to veto last year’s proposed fix.

But the provisions also were a main sticking point in the House, particularly among members of both parties who criticized those options as catering to special interests rather than student need.

“You’re voting for a charter expansion bill,” Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, told House members before the vote Tuesday. “You are not voting for a student transfer bill.”

Montecillo also criticized House negotiators, who worked for days behind closed doors to reach an agreement with senators. Several meetings were held publicly, but members also broke off into smaller groups to hash out differences on some of the main issues of contention. The final bill draft was signed and finalized the day before House members voted on the measure.

Democratic Rep. Courtney Allen Courtis of Berkeley, who was one of the House negotiators for the bill, said the measure isn’t perfect, but it’s needed to address pressing issues.

“If we don’t pass this bill, then we’re only dooming more generations of students to potential failure,” Courtis said.

Whether the bill will muster enough support to pass the Senate, where it now heads, is uncertain.

Student transfers bill is HB 42.

(© Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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