As the Missouri General Assembly heads toward adjournment in five weeks, some local legislators are expressing hope that changes to the state’s school-transfer law can still be passed.
“I believe it’s the greatest issue, potentially, facing the Kansas City metro area,” said state Rep. Sheila Solon.
Rep. Mike Cierpiot, a Lee’s Summit Republican who is the House assistant majority floor leader, said he’s beginning to see a chance for passage of a bill.
“I’m hopeful,” he said. Both spoke at last Friday’s Blue Springs Chamber of Commerce legislative breakfast.
The issue is about unaccredited school districts. Under state law, students can transfer to neighboring accredited district, with expenses, including transportation, paid by their home district. As the law stands now, students in the unaccredited Kansas City district could begin transferring this fall, though so far only a handful of families have signed up.
That issue has hit a couple of small, unaccredited districts in the St. Louis area hard. Thousands of students have transferred out of the Normandy and River Gardens districts, and that has hammered those districts’ finances. State legislators are on the verge of approving $2 milliion for Normady so it can keep the doors open.
Solon said transfers out of Kansas CIty into Blue Springs, Independence and other districts could have a major impact.
“So what we’ve seen play out in St. Louis could very well happen here in our area,” she said.
Several bills have been filed to change the law. The one the Senate has passed would allow students in an unaccredited district move to another school within that district if that school’s stanardized test scores are high enough. Once those better-performing schools fill up, students could then turn to neighboring districts, but those districts would be allowed to set caps on enrollment so they don’t have to take on the expense of adding staff or classrooms.
Finally, if those schools fill up, the students could – with public money – turn to private, non-religious schools. That’s a sticking point for some legislators. Citing various reasons, most senators from the Kansas City voted against the bill, which is now in the House.
Cierpiot said there are several hurdles. The bill itself, he said, isn’t that well written and needs changes.
“We’ve got rural legislators who really don’t appreciate what St. Louis and Kansas City” face, he added.
Legislators also often say a bill has to be introduced three or four years in a row before enough legislators learn about it and get on board. This bill is new.
“... the bill is not a simple bill, and it’s not easy to get used to it,” Cierpiot said.
He said legislators met last week with those he characterized as the education establishment and those who are reformers, and he said that went well. He stressed, as he has repeatedly, that either side generally has the power to kill major changes. The trick, he has said, is to come up with a bill that makes needed changes that both sides can live with.
Solon stressed that the stakes are high.
“And I just hope we can all come together and come to a solution sometime this session,” she said.