Senate debates allowing St. Louis students to transfer

Missouri senators this week debated but did not vote on a bill to allow students from the non-accredited St. Louis Public School District to transfer to suburban schools.

St. Louis schools lost accreditation in 2007 for not meeting academic standards. Only 19 percent of students meet math knowledge standards in the district, state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education data indicate.

Students are supposed to have the option to transfer to county schools, but the county schools have not accepted a single student, said Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County.

“Colleges look for accreditation, future employers look for accreditation. We are handicapping these children,” Cunningham said.

The bill allows for expansion of charter schools outside the city of St. Louis, gives parents the option to transfer their students to other schools, and makes sure suburban districts accept the students.

The county schools are aware change is necessary, said Deanna Borland, a spokeswoman for the Cooperating School Districts of Greater St. Louis, which advocates on behalf of area schools.

“They agree they need to accept transfer students with some reasonable parameters and control,” she said.

St. Louis schools are making progress in getting back on track, said Mary Armstrong, a spokeswoman for St. Louis’ American Federation of Teachers. In a district that has gone through several superintendents, she said that the bill will harm the progress the current superintendent has made.

“This bill doesn’t give the superintendent a chance — he is trying to right the ship,” she said.

She said the bill doesn’t offer anything new to the St. Louis Public School District students because of the desegregation laws.

Other opponents to the bill worry about the charter school provision. The bill allows for accredited county schools to open charter schools to accommodate more students, but it won’t be successful, said St. Louis’ American Federation of Teachers Vice President Byron Clemens.

Missouri National Education spokesman Otto Fajen agreed.

“There is a great concern for their expansion — they need to be accountable, transparent,” he said.

The Senate General Laws Committee will vote on the bill within the month, said an aide to Cunningham, the committee’s chairwoman.

– Missouri Digital News