Despite significant concerns several months ago, the local effects of leaving the state’s school-transfer rules in place appear to be minimal.
But local legislators are among those expressing frustration at how the legislative process ended in Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill legislators had debated and crafted all spring.
“Troubling” is how state Rep. Noel Torpey, R-Independence, described Nixon’s announcement, after the session was over, that he would veto the bill.
“I wish he’d get engaged in education. I really do. ... And for him to be silent for four years is unbelievable,” he said at a recent Independence Chamber of Commerce legislative update.
Three of Nixon’s fellow Democrats – Sen. Paul LeVota and Reps. Ira Anders and Tom McDonald – also were at the event and were asked if they wanted to dispute Torpey’s description. None did.
The concern that local school districts had raised is this: The Kansas City School District lacks state accreditation, and under state law students there can transfer to other districts in Jackson County or an adjoining county. That could put a financial burden on those “receiving” districts, although the “sending” district – the one without accreditation – would have to bear the costs of tuition and transportation. All of this is an outcome officials say was not envisioned when the law was passed 20 years ago.
So legislators offered various plans, including letting receiving districts set enrollment caps and letting students move from struggling schools to good schools within a district such as Kansas City. But the final bill that was passed also would have allowed some students to go to private, non-religious schools, with the unaccredited district picking up some costs.
Rep. McDonald termed that a voucher, “which I see as a real attack on public education in general.” That also was the governor’s stated reason for vetoing the bill.
Torpey said legislators attached several conditions for private schools. They would come under state rules. They would have to set the number of public-school students they would be open to taking.
“It is a really difficult process to happen,” Torpey said.
Transfers under the current law, which will stay in place because of Nixon’s veto, have financially hammered two St. Louis area school districts, but the impact in Kansas City appears to be small. Only 23 students have signed to up transfer this fall, and just one is headed for the Independence School District, said Superintendent Dale Herl.
The Kansas City School District’s test scores have improved, and some officials have expressed hope that the district will regain state accreditation later this year. That would end the transfers, though Herl said it’s also possible this concern could reappear at some point in the future.