JEFFERSON CITY — Lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to legislation overhauling a Missouri school transfer law that requires struggling schools to pay for students to transfer elsewhere, despite criticism from Gov. Jay Nixon that the measure could force taxpayers to pay for private school attendance.
Officials have been working to revise the 1993 transfer law after recent decisions by the state Supreme Court upheld the requirement for unaccredited Missouri school districts to pay the costs of transferring students. House members approved the legislation 89-66 on Thursday. It passed the Senate 28-3 on Wednesday, and the measure now goes to Nixon.
Representing the Eastern Jackson County area, House members voting yes were Mike Cierpiot, R-Lee's Summit; Gary Cross, R-Lee's Summit; Glen Kolkmeyer, R-Wellington; Sheila Solon, R-Blue Springs; and Noel Torpey, R-Independence. Voting no were Ira Anders, D-Independence; Brandon Ellington, D-Kansas City; Jeff Grisamore, R-Lee's Summit, Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs; Donna Pfautsch, R-Harrisonville; John Mayfield, D-Independence; Tom McDonald, D-Independence; and John Rizzo, D-Kansas City.
The legislation would require accreditation of individual schools along with entire districts, and allow transfers by students who have spent at least one semester at an unaccredited school within an unaccredited district. Students first would transfer to a better school within their home district. If that option isn't available, students could apply to attend an accredited district in the same county or a neighboring one, or go to a private school within their home district.
The private school option has attracted particular attention. It calls for unaccredited districts in St. Louis city, St. Louis County and Jackson County to pay tuition using local tax revenues. Voter approval would be required but that step would be waived for a school system that has been unaccredited for three consecutive years.
Parents need options but the private school option is the wrong direction, Nixon said earlier this week.
"Using public money for private schools would destabilize the strong foundation on which public education has stood for generations and open the flood gates to even more radical voucher schemes down the road," he said.
Senate supporters said the transfer legislation needs to be enacted because the alternative is not workable.
"A veto on this is not leadership," said Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County.