Subscribe for 99¢

JEFFERSON CITY • A Missouri House committee passed on Wednesday legislation that would lower tuition costs an unaccredited school district must pay when students transfer to another district.

But not every member of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee was happy with the bill. Dissenters did not think the bill addressed the problems of the school transfer law, which requires unaccredited school districts to pay tuition and provide transportation for students who want to attend an accredited school in the same or adjacent county.

After a Missouri Supreme Court ruling upheld the current law in June, about 2,000 students transferred from the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts to higher-performing schools throughout the St. Louis region.

Normandy was financially solvent and stable prior to last summer’s ruling, but the resulting $1.3 million in monthly tuition and transportation expenses has the district spending down its savings. The Legislature opted to provide Normandy with $2 million to finish out the school year as part of the supplement to the current fiscal year’s budget.

The bill passed by the House committee Wednesday would drop the tuition cost to 70 percent of the sending district’s tuition rate. Money also would be put toward transportation.

“This would stabilize the sending districts’ budget somewhat, in the sense that they would know how much (money) they have to send out for each student to leave,” said Rep. Rick Stream, R-Kirkwood, who presented the bill to the committee.

The Senate’s plan for tuition rates, part of a bill passed in late February, was different. If a receiving district opted to charge less than 90 percent of its entitled amount, a new state fund would add another 10 percent. If the receiving district opted to charge at least 30 percent less than its normal amount, the transfer students’ performance data would not be counted toward state evaluations for at least five years.

If the House passes the bill Stream introduced, any differences between the House and the Senate version would need to be reconciled before the measure is sent to the governor.

Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis, voted no on the House bill because it contained too many items she felt were unrelated to the problematic transfer law.

Other provisions of the bill include:

• Transfer students must have attended an unaccredited school in an unaccredited district for one semester before transferring.

• Receiving districts could set class size and student-teacher ratios, which would be approved by the State Board of Education.

• The State Board of Education would create assistance teams for struggling districts.

• Unaccredited districts would provide free tutoring and supplemental education to students performing below grade level.

• Students could transfer to charter schools or private, nonsectarian schools in the same district or a bordering one.

Rep. Margo McNeil, D-Florissant, tried but failed to strip the private school transfer option from the bill. “This (option) kicks open the door to public funding for private schools,” McNeil said. “I think it is a huge shift in the way we do business.”

Although there are portions of the bill Rep. Vicki Englund, D-St. Louis, is not fond of, she said its important to move forward with the bill.

“I think we are doing a disservice to the kids of the state if we stop here,” Englund said. The bill is SB 493.