JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Missouri General Assembly on Tuesday sent legislation to Gov. Jay Nixon that would allow students in about 90 schools to leave and transfer to better ones.
The bill received a narrow victory in the House, 84-73 – far short of what would be required to override a veto from Nixon, a Democrat. In the Senate, it passed 23-11.
“No longer can we turn our backs on these children,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce. “We can do more.”
“It might not be the bill that we want to sign, but it is one that’s good.”
When it emerged from a conference committee, the bill included provisions that would allow students in unaccredited school buildings statewide to transfer within their school districts, but would allow students in unaccredited schools in larger cities like St. Louis and Kansas City to transfer out of the districts. If all the spots in other schools were full, a student could enroll in a charter school in St. Louis and Jackson County, or a virtual school paid for by the sending school statewide.
The bill does not provide a tuition cap for receiving school districts, and provides limited transportation funding for students leaving their unaccredited schools.
“It may not be the best solution or the easiest solution, but we have a pathway for this to work,” said State Rep. David Wood, R-Versailles.
Rep. Mike Lair, chairman of the House Education Committee, said the bill – even if it is imperfect – is the right thing to do.
“These are our all kids we should take care of them,” he said, noting the state’s 520 school districts. “You’re responsible to all students across this state.”
The charter schools provisions received some of the strongest opposition by the bills opponents, including Democratic Rep. Genise Montecillo of St. Louis.
“If the bill’s to address the transfer crisis, they should have left out the charter stuff,” she said during debate.
Tuesday’s vote came after a scathing St. Louis Post Dispatch article detailing the challenging educational life of a high school senior in the failing Normandy School District, which the state took over last year. Lawmakers pushing the bill said it would help fix districts like Normandy by allowing students a way out, but Montecillo said she disagreed.
“We’ve already failed the Normandy students,” she said. “Normandy is so far beyond an emergency. I don’t know how we rein that in for these students.”
For several hours Tuesday night, Sen. Jill Schupp, a St. Louis Democrat whose district could receive an influx of incoming students, led the opposition to the bill citing concerns about the quality of education.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat who represents the troubled Normandy school district, said opposition to the bill amounts to racism.
“‘Let’s keep them on the plantation.’ … That’s what the establishment is saying,” she said. “‘Let’s keep them on the pipeline through corrections.'”
The bill now heads to Nixon’s desk. Last year, he vetoed a similar bill that would have allowed students to transfer to private, non-religious schools. In this year’s bill, that option did not exist.