Legislative Column for the Week of Monday, Jan. 13, 2013

Education Transfer Law

With the continued inability of the Kansas City Public Schools to return to accredited status, a current state statute that allows students to transfer to another district will be a big topic in Jefferson City this year. Several local school districts, including Lee’s Summit, Independence and Blue Springs in the 8th District, filed a law suit against the transfer law, but lost in the Missouri Supreme Court. That decision has opened the possibility for students in Kansas City Public Schools to attend schools in districts located in Eastern Jackson County and other outlying areas.

Several problems exist with the current transfer law. The biggest logistical issue is how the sending (unaccredited) district pays the receiving district for the transferring student’s tuition. Similarly, there are valid concerns about overcrowding in the receiving districts and the possibility that some districts may have to add infrastructure to accommodate transfers. As the sponsor of a parental involvement bill while in the House, I am also concerned that students who attend school so far from home result in parents not able to stay involved in their school activities.

The transfer issue is not a simple one. First, it is not triggered until a district is unaccredited. Second, because school districts in Missouri are so diverse, a transfer law fix that helps schools surrounding Kansas City may not be the same fix needed for schools surrounding St. Louis. Currently, seven bills have been filed in the Senate to address the transfer law. Which of those seven measures move, and how that bill is amended, remains to be seen.

For the nine years I have served in the Capitol, I have urged education advocates to seek and propose solutions to the continually underperforming Kansas City Public Schools.  During that time, several proposals have been brought forth by reform-minded legislators to help provide students in failing districts with a better education. Those bills have been routinely rejected by school districts, teachers and other education special interest groups. I have stood with public schools on those issues, while urging them to stop saying “no” and start coming up with a solution.

I was, therefore, very happy when the Missouri Association of School Administrators, with the guidance and support of several local superintendents, put forward a plan called “A Path to Excellence.” The plan not only addresses the transfer issue, but specifically addresses changes to how unaccredited districts are handled. While there are some details in the plan I think need to be addressed, I agree with the direction of the plan as a whole and congratulate the superintendents on moving it forward.

Of course, my support is not enough to pass a bill changing the law. There are senators from St. Louis who are sold on another plan. The Speaker of the House is convinced that no changes are needed to the transfer law and would be unlikely to pass any bill, unless it had some type of reform. Those legislators and others will need to be brought to the table where a compromise will have to be reached.  Unfortunately, some administrators are resorting to name calling and vilification of the Speaker and other reform advocates, a tactic which is only likely to stall or even end any compromise.

For nine years, I have watched as personal and political differences have derailed any plans to help the children who live in the Kansas City Public Schools. I hope that, with this new plan as a starting point, school districts and those who want reforms can come together instead of fighting over differences.