State lawmakers discuss limiting unaccredited school transfers

By Christina Turner

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri representatives want to give the State Board of Education authority to restrict where students from unaccredited districts can transfer.

Rep. Rick Stream, R-St. Louis, is sponsoring a bill that would create a statewide achievement school district as a political subdivision, to which the board must transfer all under-performing schools in an unaccredited district. The bill also requires the state board to provide assistance teams to borderline and provisionally accredited districts and to continue monitoring schools assigned to an unaccredited district.

“I’m trying to protect the receiving districts from being overwhelmed with more students than they can handle,” Stream said. “The sending districts, I’m trying to protect them by reducing the tuition payments that are being sent to the receiving districts.”

Rep. Mike Cierpiot, R-Jackson County, presented another bill that would enable the state to pay for students from unaccredited districts to attend private schools. The bill would give public schools complete control over student and teacher ratios and class sizes. Once superintendents within a reasonable bus ride say they can take no more children, transfer students would be able to choose to attend private schools funded by tax credits.

Mike Lodewegen is the Missouri School Administrators Association legislative advocate. He said current bills focus solely on school choice.

“Transfers are not a school-improvement plan whatsoever,” Lodewegen said. “We have the St. Louis Public School system to look at right now. They’ve had transfers for years. Has it done anything to turn around that school district? That’s what we’re talking about today.”

Members of the state House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education expressed concerns that these proposals may be moving problems from one school to another, and they would be masked by the receiving school’s population. Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-Affton, said she fears commonalities between unaccredited schools are not being considered.

“When we look at districts that are unaccredited, the common thread is that they have very, very high poverty rates,” Montecillo said. “If receiving districts aren’t equipped to deal with some of the issues that these students bring with them, it could be worse.”

A spokesman from the Missouri National Education Association also addressed concerns about a provision of the bill. The provision would rank each school building on an individual basis, rather than by district.

Otto Fagan said school districts like Columbia have successfully self-corrected by redistributing schools if they have had an underperforming building.

“We ask you to think twice about stepping in before the district has a chance to respond,” Fagan said.

He also said individual ranking won’t adequately identify “problem schools” if a successful district has redistributed the buildings.

The committee made no immediate action regarding the bill.