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Government, Politics & Issues

Student transfer legislation hits another snag; Wednesday is transfer deadline for Normandy

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Marshall Griffin/St. Louis Public Radio

One of the first things the Missouri Senate was expected to do after returning from spring break was to debate and pass the House version of the proposed student transfer fix.

Senate President Pro-tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, told reporters on March 19, "I think any concerns about (House Bill 42) right now are minor and can be worked out."

A week and a half later, the bill is now in trouble.

The Senate version of the bill, SB1, has been stuck for weeks, due to its estimated $200 million-plus price tag.

House Bill 42, passed earlier this month, contains a roughly $13 million fiscal note, but now some Senate Republicans believe the information House members used for their estimates is not accurate.

"There are some of us that are taking issue with the numbers that are being provided," Dempsey said.  "We need to work through those items, because I don't intend to (hold a) third-read (vote on) a bill that has a $60 million-$80 million fiscal note on it…I think that's something that won't make it out of this body."

One example of the different opinions between the two bodies on the bill's potential cost: The House estimates that the net effect on general revenue (state dollars controlled by the legislature) could exceed $3,196,390 in Fiscal Year 2016, which begins July 1st.  The Senate estimates the net effect on general revenue could exceed $28,152,923 during FY2016.

"We've got plenty of time, and we'll get those questions answered," Dempsey said.

Lawmakers have just over six weeks to pass a student transfer fix before the 2015 legislative session ends.

Another financial crisis looming for Normandy schools?

As Wednesday's transfer deadline approaches, the number of students transferring has already surpassed 500. State officials have said if it gets much higher than that, the district would not be able to operate like it has for the upcoming fiscal year. As of Tuesday afternoon, the state board of education knew of 527 students who intend to transfer.

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File | St. Louis Public Radio

 "(Normandy schools are) getting to the critical point that they can't accommodate too many more and be fiscally viable for the next year," said Ron Lankford, deputy commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. "At the end of the day, the number of dollars that flow out with each student, you would reach a point of where there aren't enough dollars to operate a program in Normandy and pay the tuition for the students that are outgoing."

Some groups have said a cap on tuition could help solve the problem. But that idea, from Rep. Clem Smith, D-Velda Village Hills, was voted down. Instead, House Bill 42 would allow a sending and receiving district to negotiate a reduced tuition rate.

The bill was referred to the Senate committee on governmental oversight and accountability on Tuesday, where it will likely continue to sit unless House and Senate leaders can agree on the estimated costs.

As for Normandy, the deadline for students to announce they will transfer is 4 p.m. Wednesday. Whether the district will be able to continue operating will partially depend on how high that number rises, the tuition of the schools in the receiving districts and whether any tuition caps are established.

"A tuition cap would certainly help," Lankford said. "The number's down so that is what saved them this year. If the numbers would increase, the only way you could continue is to have some type of tuition cap."

Follow Marshall Griffin and Ray Howze on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport  @RayHowze

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