School Transfers

Even though the school transfer issue aroused passionate debate last year, the issue still isn't resolved.
Stephanie Zimmerman | St. Louis Public Radio | file photo

With some anger, some defiance and some celebration, the elected board of the Normandy school district held its final meeting Thursday night.

On Tuesday, the district will be replaced by the Normandy Schools Collaborative, to be run by a board whose members have not yet all been appointed. Ty McNichols is set to remain as superintendent, but he and other administrators will be working without contracts.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

Anxiety crept through SheRon Chaney when she heard that the Francis Howell School District would no longer accept about 350 transfer students from Normandy who were signed up to continue in the program. 

“Last year we were hopeful, this year we’re fearful,” she said. 

Chaney transferred her middle school aged daughter BrenNae to Maplewood Richmond Heights last year.  And even though Francis Howell’s decision —  made during a closed session of its school board — doesn’t affect her directly, it has Chaney and hundreds of other parents holding their breath.  

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture

The Francis Howell School District announced today it will no longer accept transfer students from Normandy.  The district was expecting roughly 350 students who transferred last fall to continue during the coming school year. Last summer, the soon-to-be-dissolved Normandy School District selected Francis Howell as its transportation option for students. 

Because the Normandy Schools Collaborative will have no accreditation status, the Francis Howell district said it is no longer legally obligated to accept transfer students.

Courtesy Normandy School District

While the Missouri board of education wrestles with big questions concerning  Normandy schools – who will run them, how will the curriculum change, how can student achievement be raised – parents in the district have much more personal concerns:

Will their children still be able to transfer to nearby accredited districts in the coming school year?

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture

The Normandy School District filed a motion Friday seeking to block the state’s takeover of the district as of June 30 and its replacement by a new Normandy Schools Collaborative run by a state-appointed board.

Provided

As Missouri schools begin preparing for another year of student transfers, the woman who brought the case all the way to the state Supreme Court is at the brink of bankruptcy and wondering where her daughters will get their education this fall.

Gina Breitenfeld is being sued by the Clayton School District for more than $24,000 in unpaid tuition. She says that the financial toll of the case, plus unpleasant comments about the transfers made within earshot of her daughters, prompted her to pull them out of the Clayton schools toward the end of the just completed school year.

Mehlville website

Some of St. Louis Public Radio’s best work this week wasn’t breaking news. It was making sense of news that broke days or even months earlier.

It’s been a year since the court ruling that opened the door to student transfers from Normandy and Riverview Gardens to Francis Howell, Mehlville, Kirkwood and other districts. Reporter Dale Singer circled back this week to ask key participants to reflect on their hopes, fears and actual experiences.

school buses
Flickr

One year ago Wednesday, the Missouri Supreme Court threw the lives of thousands of students, teachers, parents and school administrators into a turmoil that shows no signs of stopping.

By unanimously overturning a lower court ruling and allowing students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to nearby accredited schools, the court enforced a 20-year-old law in a way that no one had foreseen would ever happen.

As a result:

Jess Jiang / St. Louis Public Radio

A  year ago today, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that students who live in unaccredited school districts should be able to transfer to better schools, with their home districts having to foot the bill. The decision opened the door for about 2,000 kids in the north county districts of Normandy and Riverview Gardens to transfer to nearby schools. 

Chris Nicastro
DESE website

Missouri education officials are going to recommend that under the new Normandy school entity, which takes effect July 1, students who have transferred from that district to nearby accredited districts would still be able to do so, but tuition rates would be capped at about $7,200. No new transfers would be allowed.

Under the state plan, the transportation situation for transfer students would stay the same.

KWMU Staff

With a veto of the school transfer bill all but certain, Missouri lawmakers who worked on the wide-ranging legislation say they hoped a compromise could still be reached on the question of using public money to pay tuition at nonsectarian private schools.

But they acknowledged that it won’t be easy coming up with terms that will please Republicans and Democrats, urban, suburban and rural lawmakers — and Gov. Jay Nixon.

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

This week, St. Louis Public Radio's education reporter Dale Singer joins Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies as we welcome back state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, to the show. 

The Politically Speaking podcast is diverging from our usual alternating schedule of Republican and Democratic guests. Instead, we are focusing on opposing views on one of the region's hottest issues: the transfer of students from the Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts -- both unaccredited -- to neighboring districts.

(Flickr/Cast a Line)

After telegraphing his intention for a week, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday announced that he is indeed going to veto the student-transfer bill because of its provisions allowing public money to be used for private schools.

He also faults the bill because it does not require unaccredited sending districts to pay any transportation costs for students transferring to accredited districts, as the schools now are required to do.

(via Flickr/comedy_nose)

Missouri education officials, who control the finances of the Normandy school district, say they won’t pay the costs of a lawsuit that asks the courts to take another look at the student transfer case.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in St. Louis County Circuit Court, wants a reconsideration of two issues the Missouri Supreme Court rejected in its unanimous decision last year that set in motion the student transfers: unfunded mandates and the impossibility to comply with the transfer law.

/ Tim Lloyd, St. Louis Public Radio

 It’s just after 7 a.m., and SheRon Chaney already has her family packed into an SUV and ready for school.

“On a good day like today, I’m hoping it only takes about 35 minutes,” she said.

Leave just a touch later and they could be stuck in traffic for more than an hour. It’s a quirk of St. Louis' commuter culture that Chaney picked up when she decided to transfer her seventh-grade daughter, BrenNae, out of the Normandy School District in favor of Maplewood Richmond Heights.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture

One day after the Missouri Board of Education voted to replace the Normandy school district with a new, state-controlled entity, Normandy filed suit challenging the law that lets students transfer from unaccredited districts.

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

This week, St. Louis Public Radio's state Capitol reporter Marshall Griffin joins Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies to talk with state Rep. Clem Smith.

The Velda Village Hills Democrat represents a number of small municipalities in St. Louis County, including most of the cities within the embattled Normandy School District. 

Note: You can subscribe to us on iTunes.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture

Recent national data indicate that schools are becoming resegregated and African Americans are less likely to be in integrated schools. That is why the continuation of the recent student transfer plan is so important.

The Missouri Legislature just passed a new complex, comprehensive student transfer bill, which unfortunately has so many flaws that it is likely to be vetoed by the governor. Should that be the case, the current transfer program for students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens will remain in existence until a reasonable alternative becomes law.

Entrance to Normandy High School campus
Google Maps screen capture

(Updated at 4:54 p.m., Tues., May 20)

COLUMBIA, Mo. – The Missouri Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to replace the Normandy School District with a new entity with the same boundaries but run by an appointed board, effective July 1.

Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio

Gov. Jay Nixon once again signaled that he might strike down school transfer legislation that passed out of the General Assembly last week. 

After he helped break ground on an expansion to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Nixon told reporters that he would move the transfer bill to the “very top of the list to review.” The multifaceted bill makes a number of changes to the law that allows students in unaccredited school districts to go to different schools. (Click here to read a detailed story on what the bill does.)

The Democratic governor once again zeroed in on a provision that could allow students in unaccredited districts to transfer to private, nonsectarian schools. That, he said, amounts to a voucher program, which the governor has opposed for years.

“It violates the constitution and it something we haven’t done in Missouri since 1821,” Nixon said. “And it’s unnecessary for that particular solution.”

Nixon also said he had concerns about a provision that would no longer require unaccredited districts to pay transportation costs for transfer students. But he added that he’d give the bill a “good look” and make a quick decision.

“It’s a pressing public policy issue that I need to get to,” Nixon said.

Some of the bill’s supporters – including Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City – have been critical of Nixon for not working more closely with lawmakers on the issue. Chappelle-Nadal told reporters last week that for Nixon “to come about at the eleventh hour is not only a disgrace, but it also shows the lack of his leadership.”

When asked about that criticism – which has been percolating for years among legislators of both parties – Nixon said: “I’m there every day. I work a lot.”

“We got a lot done, especially on mental health this year,” said Nixon, specifically pointing to a proposal that will help construction a new mental health-care facility in Fulton. “But when they veer off course the way they did on the last day of the session and pass $490 million of tax cuts that aren’t paid for and don’t put a balanced budget on my desk, they can add too.”

'Entirely separate'

Nixon was referring to tax breaks passed on the last day of session. They ranged from incentives for data centers to tax exemptions for restaurants and farmers’ markets.

But after criticizing those bills, Nixon said he wasn’t being inconsistent for championing a much bigger incentive package to lure Boeing’s 777X to Missouri.

That package would have provided Boeing with around $1.7 billion in tax incentives if it built its assembly plant in Missouri. Some legislative critics contended the price tag was well over $2 billion, and amounted to corporate welfare.

When asked whether his criticism of the tax incentives chafed with his advocacy for the Boeing package, Nixon said it was “an entirely separate” situation.

“If [Boeing] made investments and created jobs, then we allowed them to keep a portion of the taxes that were earned after the construction project was over and after folks were working,” Nixon said. “That’s why we worked specifically within our programs in the Boeing deal that required job creation.”

“These things that have been passed don’t do that,” he added. “They just throw money at whomever at who was walking down the hall with a good lobbyist. And that is not the way to run the fiscal system of a state.”

Nixon added he was “going to focus over the next couple of weeks” to make sure “the cuts that we have to make to balance the budget and maintain our fiscal discipline are ones that reflect our values.”

Officials celebrate plant science center expansion

Meanwhile, Nixon joined a number of prominent officials – including St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and former Washington University Chancellor William Danforth – to break ground on an expansion to the Danforth Plant Science Center. 

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

Few could accuse the Missouri General Assembly of languishing during its last few days of session.

In fact, the legislature’s last dash was something of a whirlwind: It featured fierce debates over bills about student transfers and abortion restrictions. Lawmakers also sent proposals on a transportation tax and early voting procedures to the November ballot. Other efforts fizzled out, including last-minute pushes to expand and reconfigure the state’s Medicaid system.

school buses
Flickr

Updated at 9:35 a.m. Monday with clarification on tuition rates, link to final bill text.

Two bills passed by Missouri lawmakers this week would have a significant impact on how and what students in the state are taught – if the legislation escapes a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon.

And that doesn’t include the financial impact the governor says will occur because of the tax-cut bill that the House and Senate passed into law over his veto earlier this month.

knittymarie / Flickr

A tumultuous school year in Missouri is about to end, and a new era in school choice could be about to begin.

Bill Greenblatt | UPI

The Missouri legislative session’s finale played out this week with members in their usual swivet of last-minute activity and suspense. Watching the action in the closing days is like watching the cap dance at a Cardinals’ game — blink and you lose track of what’s going on.

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

(Updated 10 a.m. Friday, May 16)

The Missouri House has passed the so-called student transfer fix, sending it to Gov. Jay Nixon one day before the end of the 2014 legislative session.

Senate Bill 493 would allow for individual school buildings to be accredited instead of the district as a whole, and it would create regional authorities to oversee student transfers.

Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, praised the bill late Thursday as "the most far-reaching education reform measure in decades."

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal
Missouri Senate

A long-simmering feud between Gov. Jay Nixon and some black politicians, going back to his days as Missouri’s attorney general, flared up again in Jefferson City this week, fanned by the debate over school transfer legislation.

But not all African-American officials are taking sides against the governor. Some, especially in the state House, are urging Nixon to veto the student transfer bill, because they consider its changes in the transfer law harmful to black students.

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

The Missouri Senate has passed the final version of legislation designed to ease the burden of the state's school transfer law. It includes a provision that would end free transportation for transfer students -- a provision that would make it harder for students from failing schools to actually attend other districts.

Jason Rosenbaum/St. Louis Public Radio

The final days of the Missouri General Assembly's session can produce triumph, frustration, anger and befuddlement -- all in the span of an hour or two.

All of these disparate emotions take place in the living, breathing Missouri Capitol. And while describing that "last few days of session" essence can be difficult, it can perhaps be portrayed in a series of photographs.

St. Louis Public Radio reporter Jason Rosenbaum spent a couple of days in Jefferson City this week. He found time in his jam-packed schedule to take some pictures.

Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

(Updated at 6:12 p.m.)

House and Senate negotiators have wrapped up work on a final version of a bill to ease the burden of Missouri’s student transfer law.

Senate Bill 493 would allow for individual school buildings to be accredited, instead of the school district as a whole, and it would create regional authorities to oversee transfers.

Flickr | jimbowen0306)

With fights over tax cuts and budgets out of the way, the Missouri General Assembly appears poised to spend its final week focusing on some familiar topics: guns, abortion and voting rights.

    

Measures to restrict enforcement of federal laws, triple the waiting period for an abortion and to ask voters to mandate photo IDs at the polls are among the hot-button proposals expected to eat up some of legislators’ precious floor time during the final five days.

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