Lawmakers from both the Missouri state Senate and House will meet on Tuesday to collect ideas on how to deal with the school transfer process.
Vice-chairman of the Joint Committee on Education, Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg), said getting feedback from education experts now will help lawmakers hit the ground running when they begin discussing the school transfer law during the 2014 legislative session.
“It’s not just from the St. Louis area either,” Pearce said. “We have a very, very similar situation in Kansas City. That’s going to be something we take up very early because it affects the entire state.”
To date, two out of three unaccredited districts in the state, Normandy and Riverview Gardens, both located in north St. Louis County, have had to pay tuition and transportation costs associated with students who leave to go to an accredited district.
A lawsuit is holding up the transfer process for Missouri’s third unaccredited district, Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS). Earlier this month KCPS Superintendent, Stephen Green, asked Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro to reconsider the district’s unaccredited status.
Despite the district receiving an accreditation score of 60 percent, which falls within the provisional accreditation range under the latest incarnation of the Missouri School Improvement Program, or MSIP5, Nicastro indicated she wanted to see two to three additional years of positive progress before recommending that the Missouri Board of Education move the district toward provisional accreditation.
“We were pleased to see the progress students made in Kansas City schools this year in science and math,” Nicastro said in a press release issued by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. “But we must do what we believe is in the best interests of the children.”
Nicastro has also said that she would not recommend removing St. Louis Public Schools’ (SLPS) provisional accreditation status after it had a 24.6 percent total score under MSIP5. As with KCPS, she has indicated that she wants to give the district more time to adjust to MSIP5 standards. Any district that scores below 49.9 percent under MSIP5 is classified as unaccredited.
Meanwhile, the transfer process continues to take an especially heavy financial toll on the Normandy School District, where Superintendent Tyrone McNichols said that it’s costing the district about $1.5 million a month. As Normandy’s reserve fund dwindles, the district may not be able to cover those costs by this spring and McNichols is considering staff reductions.
Normandy’s bleak fiscal outlook prompted the Missouri State Board of Education to seek an additional $6.8 million in funding for the district.
Chair of the Joint Committee on Educaiton, Rep. Mike Lair (R-Chillicothe), said should Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon send that supplemental state budget item to the legislature, it will likely face an uphill battle in the GOP controlled House and Senate.
“That’s going to be a tough one,” said Lair, who also chairs the House Committee for Education Appropriations. “I understand both sides of that. From the kids’ standpoint, I lean toward granting that money. But, I’m afraid from the overall education standpoint, there’s $6.8 million that won’t be going somewhere where people have been doing the right things.”
As for Tuesday’s hearing, Lair said lawmakers are not interested in rehashing how the transfer law has impacted districts. Instead, he said they want to collect ideas for possible legislative fixes.
“When I issued my call for this committee meeting, I issued it for new ideas,” Lair said. “We don’t need a rehash, we don’t need people to get upset. We know the situation. We need to come up with innovative ideas to fix that.”
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