School Transfers Spark Controversy
On June 11, 2013 a Missouri Supreme Court decision was handed down that will affect many families in the St. Louis metro area. That decision was a verdict in the long-running Turner vs. Clayton case to provide for the transfer of students in unaccredited districts into nearby accredited ones. While the decision has been cheered by many parents and residents of St. Louis, it has left others in the metro area with questions about what these transfer decisions will mean for the future.
As Dean Michael Wolff explains, this law is not a radical concept for those already associated with its legislative counterpoint, written and passed 20 years ago. That law states that when a district loses accreditation, students may switch to an accredited district within the same or an adjoining county. However, there are still many areas of the law that require more distinction either from the legislature or further litigation.
One such area is the failure, “to address certain underlying issues that create such inequality in our public schools,” according to SLU LAW Professor Aaron Taylor. “Issues of school finance, housing policy, and income inequality all contribute to an environment where you have low-performing schools mere blocks away from high-performing schools.”
Another area of question in regard to the law will be the actual implementation. Dean Wolff points out that the legislature did not address, “how many students a district must accept, nor did it say how the students would be chosen if the district was oversubscribed.”
Missouri’s transfer law is different from similar laws around the country because it, more than any other, “empowers students in the unaccredited districts,” according to Taylor. The downfall of this is that school officials are left wondering if they have the means to accept all who want to transfer.
As a part of the transportation statute, unaccredited schools are required to provide transportation to one other district for those students who wish to transfer. Students from the Normandy school district will have free transportation to Francis Howell schools and students from Riverview Garden will have free transportation to Mehlville. For the numbers on where transferring students will be going, look here.
Both Francis Howell and Mehlville are relatively far from the unaccredited districts that will be transferring to them, which leaves some parents and experts to see these choices as moves by Normandy and Riverview Garden administrators to stem the flow of students from their schools. In order to rebuild and regain accreditation, schools need to have a successful, present student body, so they have little incentive to make the transferring process easier for their students.
This is yet another area where the law is unclear and will likely require clarification from either the Missouri legislature or a court case later down the road. Says Taylor, “allowing unaccredited districts to choose where to send their buses could very well be in violation of the law, which does not explicitly allow such an allowance.”
Transferring could also be detrimental to the schools because of the large cost, coming directly out of their pocket. Francis Howell estimates that their tuition will be $11,000 for students transferring from the Normandy district. Unaccredited schools must pay for transportation and tuition for all students who seek a transfer and those expenses will drain funds that could be used to better the unaccredited schools.
Reactions to the impending transfers have been varied, according to Taylor, who describes a Francis Howell district public meeting that took place earlier in the summer as particularly troubling. Parents at the meeting expressed many concerns, including the possibility that incoming students will lower test scores and introduce a violent presence into their schools, both of which are unsupported by data. However, one positive to come out of these meetings is the leadership of the administration, which Taylor describes as showing a, “willingness to accept the students and integrate them into their schools.”
When the Supreme Court made their decision, they were following a law passed by the Missouri legislature 20 years ago that insured the right of every child to attend an accredited school. The questions left now are things that did not come up in the original creation of this law, but are extremely prevalent as its implementation becomes more widespread. Many parents began calling for a special session to be held in September to address these issues, but more than likely discussion will be postponed to the regular legislative session in January. Until then, questions such as how many students an accredited district is allowed to accept, will be left undecided.
By Maureen Brady