Gov. Jay Nixon says Missouri needs policy changes to limit, as much as possible, transfers from failing school districts into accredited districts.

“We should do what we can to reduce the necessity of transfers,” Nixon said in an interview last week with The Examiner.

Legislators are considering several bills to alter the current state law that allows students in unaccredited districts to transfer – at the unaccredited district’s expense – to neighboring districts.

The Kansas City School District lacks state accreditation, and legal challenges have held off transfers up to now, but as things stand large-scale transfers could begin this fall. Superintendents in Eastern Jackson County have said that could be massively disruptive for their districts.

Suburban districts have pointed to the cost of taking on large numbers of new students.

“And I continue to believe the receiving districts and their boards should have a clear and powerful voice” on those issues, Nixon said.

One idea contained in several bills under consideration in the General Assembly is allowing accredited districts to set a cap on enrollment based on how much space they have and on a reasonable class size. “I’m not ready to commit” to that idea, Nixon said.

“I think there’s a number of ideas worth looking at. The parameter to me is action,” he said.

The school transfer issue has been festering for years, and Nixon said uncertainty is causing problems. Also, he said, state testing standards are raising the bar for all schools, and he said it it’s important in the future to identify schools’ struggles early and act quickly.

“What can we do right then – at the front end?” he said.

The governor stressed that when the current law governing transfers was passed a generation ago, no one anticipated today’s situation: a failing district looking at losing students and having to foot the bill, accredited districts potentially having to take more students than they say they can handle, and large numbers of students ending up in schools far from their neighborhoods. The law is having unintended consequences that need to be addressed, he said.

“So I do think it’s important this year that the Legislature get to it,” he said.