JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon said Friday he will veto legislation seeking to overhaul a student transfer law that requires unaccredited school districts to pay for students who want to go to another school.
Nixon said in a statement that the bill Missouri lawmakers passed last week could allow public funds to pay for students to attend private schools and lead to further disruption by eliminating a requirement that struggling districts pay for transportation.
The Democratic governor said he made it clear "any effort to send public dollars to private schools through a voucher program would be met by my veto pen."
The legislation "fails to address the challenges resulting from the existing school transfer law and instead, would create even more problems by allowing public funds to be used for private schools and pulling the rug out from under students who have transferred," Nixon said.
Legislators had worked to revise the 1993 student transfer law after recent decisions by the state Supreme Court upheld it.
Rep. Rick Stream, who sponsored the bill in the House, said the veto would force districts into bankruptcy and closure.
"I am extremely disappointed by the governor's decision to use one stroke of his veto pen to undo the hundreds of hours that members of both parties invested in developing a bipartisan solution that puts the needs of children first," the Kirkwood Republican said in a statement. "The governor was completely absent throughout this process and never once even pretended that fixing our failing school districts was a priority."
Students transferred this school year from suburban St. Louis districts of Riverview Gardens and Normandy, and the financial strain prompted the state to approve funding to ensure Normandy made it through the year. Kansas City's school district also is unaccredited.
Normandy's school board approved a resolution objecting to the transfer bill. The district has been unaccredited since the start of 2013, and says it has paid nearly $8 million for roughly 1,000 transfers. Normandy also filed a lawsuit Wednesday.
The transfer legislation calls for accreditation of individual schools along with entire districts, and would allow transfers by students who have spent at least one semester at an unaccredited school within an unaccredited district.
Under the plan, students first would move to a better school within their home district. If that option wasn't available, they could apply to attend school in an accredited district in the same county or a neighboring one, or go to a private school within their home districts.
The private schools portion would apply to unaccredited school districts in St. Louis city, St. Louis County and Jackson County, and require that districts pay private school tuition using local tax revenues. Local voter approval would be required, though that step would be waived for a school system that has been unaccredited for three consecutive years.
To address cost concerns, the legislation would make it optional for unaccredited districts to pay transportation costs and would offer an incentive for receiving districts to reduce tuition paid by unaccredited districts.
Several education organizations objected to the private schools portion.
Missouri School Boards' Association spokesman Brent Ghan said Friday that the legislation would have taken Missouri toward providing taxpayer money for private schools, which he said isn't "the right path for our state."
Kate Casas, state director for the advocacy group Children's Education Council of Missouri, criticized the promised veto. She said it "effectively blocks legislation that would allow students in unaccredited schools to attend a better school in their home district."
Overriding a veto would require a two-thirds vote. The Senate passed the measure 28-3, which exceeds that margin. However, the House vote was 89-66, and an override would require 109 votes. In addition, the annual veto override session is in September, which is after the school year starts.