Voluntary Transfer Program | St. Louis Public Radio

Voluntary Transfer Program

(Aug. 14, 2019) Veronica Johnson (at left) and Maalik Shakoor joined Wednesday's talk show to discuss St. Louis' school desegregation and busing program. Hope Rias joined the conversation by phone.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

As Joe Biden and Kamala Harris clashed in the Democratic presidential debates over the issue of busing, viewers may have thought of these programs as being in the past. That’s not the case in St. Louis — the city has the longest-running and largest desegregation program in the nation. 

Now in its 38th year, the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation has bused more than 70,000 inner-city black students to predominantly white schools in the suburbs – and has also allowed white students living in the county to attend magnet schools in the city. It entails long bus rides as well as necessary but not always comfortable adjustment to new social circles.

St. Louis city students ride a Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation, VICC, school bus on May 11, 2017.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Applications for the St. Louis school desegregation program are decreasing, yet there’s still more demand than open slots.

At its height in the early 1990s, the program that started in 1982 as the result of lawsuit bused more than 13,000 black St. Louis students to predominantly white schools in St. Louis County. A smaller number of white students came into the city to attend St. Louis Public magnet schools.

The Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation — or as it’s more commonly know, VICC — has been winding down since a settlement in 1999, but it’s lived on through extensions.

La'Shieka White talks about the lawsuit involving her son, Edmund Lee, on May 4, 2016. Attorney Joshua Thompson is at left.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

The African-American student who was barred from attending a St. Louis charter school after his family moved to St. Louis County is pressing his case in federal appeals court, arguing that the agency that administers the city-county transfer plan is violating his constitutional rights.

The family of Edmund Lee filed suit this year, claiming racial discrimination. He had attended Gateway Science Academy while his family lived in St. Louis, but when they moved to Maryland Heights, the school said he could no longer attend.

school buses
Flickr

After area school superintendents voted Friday to phase out the current race-based student transfer program – and possibly replace it with a new one down the road – those who have been part of the program so far cited a lot of reasons it should continue.

Harlan Hodge, a city resident who graduated in 1992 from Parkway North High School, put his experience this way:

“The kids at our school, the teachers lovingly embraced us the same way they have everywhere else. It really became about excellence. I’m as committed to Parkway as I was 25 years ago when I started. I believe in the school district. I believe in teachers. I believe in our education. It was a great experience.”

KB35 | Flickr

If the voluntary student transfer program that has served more than 70,000 St. Louis area students over more than 30 years is going to continue beyond 2036, it probably will be based on a factor other than race.

At a meeting Friday, the board that oversees the program is expected to approve a final five-year extension that would begin phasing out the transfers in the 2023-24 school year. Students who begin kindergarten that year could remain through high school graduation.

Edmund Lee
provided by family

Updated July 19 with response to judge's ruling— A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against St. Louis’ voluntary desegregation program.

La’Shieka White sued the program because her son, who is black, is barred from attending a city charter school now that her family has moved to Maryland Heights. Her suit called the program’s race-based restrictions unconstitutional.

school buses
Flickr

The end isn’t near for the area’s long-running school desegregation program, but it’s coming.

Area school superintendents in charge of the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp. , which has run the program since a 1999 settlement established new rules the St. Louis-St. Louis County student transfers, are weighing one final five-year extension to the plan, taking it through the 2023-24 school year. They met Thursday to discuss the plan, with a final vote expected later this year.

Tax credits | Flickr

Two days before St. Louis voters would decide the fate of a small sales tax increase to pay for school desegregation in 1999, the woman who started the effort to get  better schools for black students asked city voters to take a “leap of faith” and back the tax.

“Without a source for funding,” Minnie Liddell wrote in a letter to the Post-Dispatch with her attorney, William Douthit, “the agreement becomes an empty set of promises, unrealized goals and positive educational outcomes that might have been.”

The tax hike, two-thirds of a penny, won big. Now it’s back in the public eye, in a dispute over who should benefit from its proceeds.

La'Shieka White talks about the lawsuit involving her son, Edmund Lee, on May 4, 2016. Attorney Joshua Thompson is at left.
Dale Singer | St. Louis Public Radio

A black third-grader's effort to continue at his St. Louis charter school even though his family has moved to St. Louis County has gone to federal court.

The Pacific Legal Foundation, based in California, announced Wednesday that it had filed the lawsuit seeking to reverse long-standing provisions of the area-wide school desegregation settlement that bars African-American students living in the county from transferring to city public schools, including charters.

Edmund Lee
provided by family

Headlines screamed the basics: A 9-year-old St. Louis boy will be barred from remaining at the school he loves, just because he is black.

The stories fed outrage across the nation and around the world and fueled an online petition that now has more than 90,000 signatures, imploring Missouri education officials to change the rules and make things right.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: JEFFERSON CITY -- For several hours Tuesday afternoon, members of the Missouri House and Senate heard suggestions on changing the law allowing students in unaccredited school districts to transfer.

Should the way tuition is calculated be changed? Should state education officials have more power to devise regulations for transfers? Should failing districts simply be dissolved, with their students distributed to nearby accredited schools? Should transfers be stopped, with attention paid instead to making sure unaccredited districts improve?

UPI/Bill Greenblatt

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has signed legislation allowing parents more time to give up newborns, requiring screening for a heart defect and dealing with mandatory reporters of child abuse.

Nixon held a bill signing ceremony Tuesday at St. Louis Children's Hospital. In front of dozens of doctors and child advocates, the Democratic governor signed a bill that he said will close a loophole for child abuse reporting.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: David Glaser wasn’t in St. Louis three decades ago during the height of public opposition to the region’s first interdistrict school desegregation program. He’s learning about some of the old outcry as emotions rise in St. Charles County where the Francis Howell District is preparing to take students wishing to transfer there from Normandy.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 18, 2012 - Families that have a certain level of income would have to pay for their children to take part in the area's voluntary school desegregation plan under a proposal advanced by the Clayton school district.

If it receives approval from all districts in the desegregation plan – and from other parties in the case -- the financial means test would require payment on a sliding scale from families whose income is above that required for participation in the federal free and reduced school lunch program.

St. Louis Districts Renew Student Transfer Program

Oct 19, 2012
(Flickr/Cast a Line)

Suburban St. Louis districts will continue to accept black students who transfer from the St. Louis city district through a program that grew out of a desegregation case.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 18, 2012 - St. Louis area school districts voted unanimously today to extend the voluntary desegregation program for another five years. But the move does raise another question:

How much longer will the program go on? When, why and how will it end?

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 23, 2012 - More than 40 years after legal action began to desegregate St. Louis area schools, new trends in education, here and nationally, could result in classes where black and white students are less likely to learn together.

That was one conclusion at Washington University Thursday from speakers at a symposium looking back at changes brought by a lawsuit against school segregation by Minnie Liddell and forward to how classrooms may look in upcoming years.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 4, 2012 - National School Choice Week is ending in Missouri with a flurry of proposals that would sharply increase the number of charters, establish scholarships to private and parochial schools, solve the dilemma over students in unaccredited districts transferring to nearby schools and carve the Kansas City school district into pieces annexed by surrounding districts.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 29, 2011 - Don Senti remembers when the first group of St. Louis students in the area's voluntary school desegregation program got off the bus at Parkway South Junior High School, where he was principal.

"When the program started," said Senti, who went on to become superintendent of the Parkway and Clayton schools, "we had 1,500 kids, and every single one of them was white. I don't think we had any Indians, and we certainly did not have any Hispanics.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 23, 2010 - Gerald Heaney, a retired federal appeals court judge, died Tuesday (June 22) in Duluth, Minn. He was 92. Judge Heaney spent more than two decades working to see that black children in St. Louis received a better education through the cross-district school desegregation program.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 10, 2009 - When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial educational segregation was inherently unequal in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, it failed to specify how and by when desegregation should occur.

The court returned to that issue in 1955 and, after a debate about revolutionary change versus evolutionary adjustment, it opted for the latter.

Commentary: Minnie Liddell's quest

Sep 30, 2009

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 30, 2009 - She was born in Starkville, Miss., the descendent of slaves but she spent most of her life in St. Louis and experienced the lingering impediments of Jim Crow laws.

In the face of the racial inscriptions imposed on her children, Minnie Liddell joined with several other parents who brought a lawsuit against the segregated St. Louis city school district in 1972.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 21, 2009 - On hot summer days in Clayton during the '40s, the clop-clop sound of the horse-drawn milk wagon on Arundel Place brought with it a rush of children, all racing to catch the driver and ask for ice. In this crowd of eager youngsters was a girl no taller and seemingly no stronger than the rest, but her friends remember that she'd usually outrun everybody and then bring back enough ice to share with them.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 15, 2009 - For a decade, Bruce Ellerman has served as CEO of the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp., which administers one of the few and perhaps the largest school desegregation program of its kind in the nation.

In 27 years, the interdistrict program has helped about 68,000 students spend part or all of their school years in integrated classrooms in St. Louis or St. Louis County. About 87 percent of the students -- 60,000 -- were city kids enrolled in county schools; 8,000 were county children attending city magnet schools.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 10, 2009 - As fifth graders cleared their desks and packed their book bags one recent afternoon at Bowles Elementary School in the Rockwood School District, their teacher, Edna Campbell, reminded herself once more, "This is the best move I ever made."

After 21 years, Campbell is still thankful for the day her curiosity led her to become an exchange/transfer teacher at Bowles, leaving her regular job at Marshall Elementary School in St. Louis.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 10, 2009 - David and Alice Grainger weren't trying to change the world when they invited a child from St. Louis to spend the night at their suburban home several years ago. They simply were trying to please their own child, Dennis, who had asked if the well-mannered, brown-eyed kid could sleep over. In time, however, the Graingers realized that this frequent visitor needed a lot more than a room for the night. He needed a home. Their decision to provide one brought the world of black and white, St. Louis and suburbia a little closer.

Students in voluntary transfer program up to 2007
St. Louis Beacon archives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 3, 2008 - On the morning of Aug. 25, 1983, about 300 St. Louis children boarded buses for trips lasting as long as 45 minutes to schools in the Ritenour District. In some cities, the sight of black children headed for predominantly white schools in the suburbs had triggered anti-busing rallies and, in some instances, violence. But the 300 kids who rode to Ritenour schools that morning enjoyed a quiet and peaceful trip, which set the tone for the start of perhaps the largest and certainly one of the longest running school desegregation initiatives in the nation.

2008 graphic
St. Louis Beacon

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: On the morning of Aug. 25, 1983, about 300 St. Louis children boarded buses for trips lasting as long as 45 minutes to schools in the Ritenour District. In some cities, the sight of black children headed for predominantly white schools in the suburbs had triggered anti-busing rallies and, in some instances, violence. But the 300 kids who rode to Ritenour schools that morning enjoyed a quiet and peaceful trip, which set the tone for the start of perhaps the largest and certainly one of the longest running school desegregation initiatives in the nation.