Lawmakers discuss ‘intervention’ for struggling schools

By Hanna Battah

JEFFERSON CITY — The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday to discuss a bill some lawmakers believe could be the answer for failing unaccredited school districts.

Current law requires unaccredited districts to pay for transportation and tuition for students who transfer to accredited schools. In St. Louis County’s Riverview Gardens and Normandy districts, this has been the case for more than 2,000 students.

Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, sponsored a measure that would form a statewide “achievement school district” overseeing under-performing schools. Under this bill, under-performing schools within a provisionally accredited district could be placed under the achievement district’s oversight. If that district’s ranking falls, it will be placed under control of the state achievement school district.

To be eligible to transfer to another district, the bill also changes current law by requiring the student’s parent or guardian to provide proof of residency in the unaccredited district for at least one year.

This section of the bill addressed lawmakers’ concerns about a school’s ability to control a growing number of transfer students and financial burdens on unaccredited districts with the 1993 transfer law.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, proposed a different bill on school transfers, and raised concerns about having state-level administrators manage her local districts.

“In my district, I know that my constituents don’t want people from Jefferson City deciding where their local tax money is going to go and how it’s used,” Chappelle-Nadal said.

Pearce hoped this system will at least help stabilize Missouri school districts by offering them time to improve their ranking if they are unaccredited.

“I guess what one thing that Senate Bill 493 strives to do is to have intervention,” Pearce said. “It’s not a ‘gotcha’ mentality or it’s not a punitive thing.”

The senators said they plan to propose more solutions for transfer students and unaccredited schools this week.