JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri House committee advanced legislation Wednesday that seeks to overhaul a student transfer law requiring struggling school districts pay for students to attend better-performing nearby schools.
But even some who endorsed the lengthy education bill voiced reservations, saying it has faults but that the issue is too important to end the discussion.
"I don't think we ought to kill it right here," said Rep. Tommie Pierson, D-St. Louis County. "I think that we ought to continue to work on it, and if we don't vote it out of committee, then we won't have a chance to work on it."
The legislation targets a 1993 law forcing districts without state accreditation to pay tuition and provide transportation for students who want to attend a school in an accredited district within the same county or a bordering one.
Transfers have occurred this school year in the suburban St. Louis districts of Normandy and Riverview Gardens. Normandy is financially strained because of the transfers, and state government approved $2 million to help get it through the current academic year. Kansas City also is unaccredited, and some Eastern Jackson County school districts would be expected to accept transfer students.
The House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee endorsed its legislation after an extended discussion that grew heated at times. House leaders have said the measure could be considered next week by the full chamber. In February, senators approved a different version of the bill.
Under the House committee's measure, unaccredited districts would pay 70 percent of their tuition costs for students who transfer plus additional money for transportation costs. That would take effect for the current academic year.
The bill also would require education officials to begin accrediting individual schools along with entire districts. Students generally would need to have spent at least one semester at an unaccredited school in an unaccredited district before transferring. Students could transfer to a better school within their home districts, or go to school districts, charter schools or nonreligious private schools within the same county or a bordering one. Struggling districts would pay some private school tuition using local tax revenue.
Under the bill, districts near unaccredited school systems could set class-size and student-teacher-ratio policies. They would not be required to accept transfer students who would cause the policies to be violated.
Three regional education authorities would assign transfer students to a school. The authority first would seek to fill seats within the unaccredited districts. It then would give the most weight to student or parental choice while also considering the student's best interest, how long they lived in a district, academic performance, travel time and whether the student qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch.
In addition, the measure calls for education assistance teams to help districts that are provisionally accredited or accredited but at risk of slipping.