School Transfers
10:52 am
Wed August 14, 2013

FAQ: What You Need To Know About Missouri School Transfers

Welcome to our guide to the Missouri school transfers situation. This document will be updated as the news changes and we gather more information.

Have more questions? Tweet us at @stlpublicradio or leave it in the comments below.

Last updated 1/07/14

What is this law?

Will the law be changed?

Which districts are involved in the St. Louis region?

What are unaccredited districts doing to improve academic performance?

What is the financial impact of student transfers?

Will Kansas City Public Schools be involved? 

How many students are affected?

How do St. Louis City Schools figure in?

Kim Morris speaks to state education officials during a meeting at Normandy High School on Dec. 11, 2013.
Credit Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio & The Beacon

What is this law?

The law at hand is state statute 167.131. It’s one part of the Outstanding Schools Act of 1993.

In short, this law allows students to transfer from unaccredited districts to accredited ones. It was struck down by a St. Louis County circuit judge in 2012, but last June the Missouri Supreme Court said it was constitutional and the transfers could proceed. 

When the districts rushed to set up the transfer program after the court ruled, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education put out a list of guidelines but emphasized that they are purely advisory with no force of law. They have been revised several times. The transfer logistics were coordinated by Cooperating School Districts, which has since been renamed EducationPlus.

Deputy Education Commissioner, Ron Lankford, speaks to Normandy School District residents on Dec. 11, 2013.
Credit Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio & The Beacon

Will the law be changed?

The answer is likely yes, but how it will be changed remains unclear.  

An interim Missouri House committee recommended that a tuition cap be put in place for transfer students, a proposal met with mixed reaction. 

In December, a bill supported by a bipartisan group of state senators addressed several issues and echoed many of the suggestions aired by others.

It would:

  • Require that individual schools be accredited rather than entire districts.
  • Let local school boards establish criteria for admitting nonresident students from unaccredited districts, considering a variety of factors and establishing class sizes to determine capacity.
  • Allow more organizations to sponsor charter schools in unaccredited districts, including the board of such a district.
  • Mandate that the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education establish a clearinghouse to assist in the transfer process.
  • Allow an unaccredited district to institute a longer school day or longer school year.

In November, EducationPlus (formerly Cooperating School Districts) published a plan formulated by St. Louis area superintendents for changing the transfer law. 

When educators find that a school is struggling, “business as usual in that school must change,” the position paper says. State education officials should step in with goals for improvement and monitor progress toward those goals. 

A model for such action should include:

  • Clear goals, assessed at least four times a year.
  • A curriculum that is clear and aligned with state standards.
  • A program to make sure 90 percent of students attend class 90 percent of the time for at least two years in a row.
  • A welcoming atmosphere for students and families.
  • Training for school board members.
  • Community collaboration and partnerships.

For districts that are unaccredited or provisionally accredited, the position paper recommends additional resources that would:

  • Encourage educators to work in the poorest areas.
  • Establish free full-day kindergarten and fully funded preschool for children who qualify for free or reduced-priced lunch.
  • Pay for extended summer school programs and home visits.
  • Provide space for agencies such as Division of Family Services, Nurses for Newborns and other support and social-service groups.

Other groups and other lawmakers have also suggested changes. State education officials are expected to make their recommendations in February or March.

Which districts are involved in the St. Louis region?

The St. Louis area has two unaccredited districts: Normandy and Riverview Gardens, both of which are in north St. Louis County.  Under guidelines issued by the state, the unaccredited districts must provide transportation to at least one receiving district in the same or adjoining county.

Normandy selected Francis Howell in St. Charles County as its transportation option.  Riverview Gardens selected Mehlville.  When Mehlville administrators determined that the district could not accommodate all the incoming students, Riverview Gardens then added the Kirkwood School District as a second transportation option for transfer students.    

In September, Francis Howell Superintendent Pam Sloan told the Missouri House of Representatives Interim Committee on Education that the school transfer process has taken her “eye off the ball.”

“I spend hours a day working on this situation so that it is constantly smooth,” Sloan told committee members last September.  “Consequently, I’m not working on all the business I should be working on the business in Francis Howell that I was hired to do there.”

Demographics

These districts vary greatly in terms of number of students, race and income.

Unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens are relatively small districts compared to the receiving schools selected as transportation options. Normandy and Riverview Gardens are predominantly black, and the transportation option districts are mostly white.

 

The districts differ in other areas as well. The receiving districts are more affluent, with the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches well under Missouri’s average of 50 percent. In the two unaccredited districts, more than 90 percent of their students are in the program.

What are unaccredited districts doing to improve academic performance?

Both Normandy and Riverview Gardens have new superintendents who have laid out plans to improve academic performance.

Scott Spurgeon listens to story time at Moline Elementary School.
Credit Rachel Lippmann / St. Louis Public Radio & The Beacon

In Riverview Gardens, Superintendent Scott Spurgeon has made accountability, collaboration with community partners and improving attendance rates the centerpieces of his strategy to earning back the district’s state accreditation.

Superintendent Tyrone McNichols’ plan for Normandy also involves reaching out to community partners through the 24:1 initiative, The district has partnered with the University of Missouri St. Louis and Washington University to improve classroom instruction. 

A discussion about the Normandy School District and efforts being taken to regain accreditation and the role of the Normandy 24:1 initiative in that effort.

What is the financial impact of student transfers?

An early estimate released in August 2013 put the total cost of school transfers for both Normandy and Riverview Gardens at $35.4 million. 

While school transfers are straining both districts financially, Normandy is in the more dire position.  Transfers are costing Normandy approximately $1.5 million a month; its reserve fund is being rapidly depleted. By spring of 2014, the district may no longer be able to cover the costs of transfers.

Superintendent Tyrone McNichols reads to kindergarten students at Barack Obama Elementary School. The teacher, Deidre Sealey, participates in the activity.
Credit Courtesy Normandy School District

To offset the costs of transfers, Normandy laid off 103 teachers and staff members and offered early retirement incentives to an additional 98 district employees. The district also cut costs by closing Bel-Nor Elementary School.           

The state board of education has asked lawmakers to approve a $6.8 million budget request for Normandy, but that has been met with little enthusiasm.  

A discussion about the Normandy School District and efforts being taken to regain accreditation and the role of the Normandy 24:1 initiative in that effort.

Chris Nicastro, Missouri’s education commissioner, has said that she wants to see sustained improvement over two to three years before recommending to the state board that an unaccredited district gain provisional or full accreditation.  

Will Kansas City Public Schools be involved?

A court case had stalled Kansas City Public Schools' participation in the transfer law in the fall of 2013. But in December, the Missouri Supreme Court again upheld the transfer law and KCPS must participate.  

Read the full opinion from the Supreme Court. 

KCPS had scored in the provisional accreditation range under state standards, but Nicastro has said she wants to see sustained improvement over a two- to three-year period before recommending that the state board change any district’s accreditation status.

On Dec. 13, 2013, KCPS filed a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court for an injunction to grant the district provisional accreditation status while the case is being heard.   

Parents and alumni waved signs in the Normandy High School parking lot, welcoming back students on the first day of class.
Credit Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio & The Beacon

How many students are affected?

At the start of the 2013 school year, more than 2,600 students applied for transfer from the two unaccredited districts in north St. Louis County.  Superintendents at both Normandy and Riverview Gardens have said that because of the transient nature of their student bodies, hundreds of students who applied to transfer had never attended school there previously.  

Many students who applied to transfer, and some who actually did change schools for a while, have returned to their home district. About 2,000 students from the two districts were in the transfer program at the end of the first semester.

How do St. Louis schools figure in?

As of right now, not much. In October 2012, the state Board of Education agreed with DESE’s recommendation to grant the St. Louis Public Schools provisional accreditation for meeting seven of the then-14 MSIP standards. The transfer law applies only to those districts that are not accredited.

SLPS scored below the provisional accreditation score under the new MSIP5 standards.   However, Missouri’s Education Commissioner, Chris Nicastro, said that she would not recommend to the state board that the district’s provisional accreditation status be changed at least for the next two years.  

Have more questions? Tweet us at @stlpublicradio or leave it in the comments below.