JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Legislation is moving forward in the Missouri Capitol to allow students to go to school outside the district they live in.
The Public School Open Enrollment Act barely passed the Missouri House last month, and now the bill is in the hands of the Senate, where the education committee held a hearing Tuesday. Some school districts told members they are worried this will leave them behind.
“If we lost 100 kids in St. Claire, we’re talking about $400,000 in state aid,” Superintendent of the St. Claire X-III District Kyle Kruse said.
It’s a plan to allow students to pick where they want to go to school. Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, sponsor of House Bill 253, said the legislation will create rivalry between districts which is a good thing.
“I believe the bill can enhance local control by engaging the community in conversation about their districts,” Pollitt said. “Districts are given the option to opt into the program. If you don’t opt in, that doesn’t keep students from leaving your districts. It just keeps you receiving students.”
Pollitt said 44 other states already allow open enrollment.
Under the legislation, districts would not be required to opt in, but the number of students that can transfer would be based on the previous school year. The language in the bill says that districts can allow 3% of the school’s previous year’s enrollment to move away.
“In states where they have school choice and open enrollment, teacher salaries are higher,” Jean Evans, American Federation of Children, said. “The competition also drives up salaries for teachers, another unintended benefit for our teachers.”
By allowing students to transfer, the state and federal funding would follow those who transfer, but local funds would remain in the home district. Some are concerned this could lead to consolidation or cause some schools to close.
“In these small rural areas, the school is sometimes the only heartbeat of the community,” Sen. Elaine Gannon, R-DeSoto, said. “My greatest fear is the small schools, possibly being forced to consolidate.”
As for the students who need special education services, the bill says receiving districts would not be required to accommodate them. Pollitt said during the committee hearing that schools could reject a child if the district doesn’t have the staff or program in place.
“This would set up an unfair competition based on the schools that have a larger tax base, leaving smaller, rural schools, even farther behind,” St. Claire R-XIII District parent Clayton Buckthorpe said.
The Public School Open Enrollment Act would prohibit student athletes who transfer to wait a year before becoming eligible at their new school.
Pollitt’s bill also sets aside $80 million to reimburse transportation costs and aid special school districts.
If they are free and reduced lunch and if the student doesn’t have access to transportation, then the receiving district when they decide to opt in, will take the responsibility of going to pick up that student in the contiguous district and the fund is used to help reimburse that district,” Pollitt said.
“In our situation, it’s just not a level playing field in terms of local support that is there for education,” Kruse said. “The dollars aren’t there, the property values aren’t there, the economic issues aren’t there.”
The legislation still needs to be voted on by the committee. Members have until May 12 to get the bill to the governor’s desk.