State legislators from the area on Friday outlined progress on a school transfer issue that could significantly affect Eastern Jackson County schools, but they said there’s a long way to go in this year’s General Assembly session.

“A lot of the work happens after spring break,” Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, said at a Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce breakfast. Legislators are on break after next week, and the pace picks up considerably as the mid-May adjournment date nears.

“The school transfer issue is huge,” Lauer added.

When Lauer made the spring-break comment, state Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, nodded in agreement.

He voted against the school-transfer bill that the Senate passed last week.

“But I think it’s important that it keep moving,” he said. “It’s something we need to get done this year.”

Under current state law, students in districts that fall short of state accreditation can transfer to a school in a district in any adjoining county. For Kansas City School District students, that’s set to begin this fall, and Eastern Jackson County school officials have expressed concerns about costs and how many students they could or should be able to handle.

Legislators are looking at changing that law. The bill the Senate passed would allow successful schools within an unaccredited district to themselves be accredited. Lincoln Prep in Kansas City is an example legislators often cite.

As Kraus outlined it, that would change the options for students looking to transfer from an unaccredited district: First, they would have to try to get into an accredited school in their district. If those schools are full, they could try to get into a school in a neighboring district if space is available. If that doesn’t work, they could transfer to a private school – an option Kraus said does not put state money into private schools.

That passed the Senate overwhelmingly, 27-5, but four of those five “no” votes came from the Kansas City area’s six senators – Kraus, Paul LeVota, D-Independence, Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, and Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.

Kraus said his problem with the bill is that there’s no state takeover of a district as long as 55 percent of its schools are still doing OK.

“I’m hoping the House fixes the problems that are in the current bill,” he said.

There are several bills on this issue in General Assembly. Lauer has one that calls for state intervention with struggling schools earlier than is currently allowed. It could happen once a school’s annual performance report scores fall to the point that they are in line with provisional state accreditation or unaccredited status.

“Like with a business, you don’t wait until you’re ready to fire someone to tell them to improve,” she said.