WHAT OTHERS SAY: Missouri legislature needs to fix school transfer law

Monday, September 30, 2013 | 3:41 p.m. CDT

The Missouri education commissioner’s recommendation to keep the Kansas City Public Schools unaccredited should ratchet up pressure on the General Assembly to fix the law allowing students to transfer out of troubled districts and into surrounding ones.

The potential upheaval for the city and surrounding districts, plus the dramatically higher cost, makes the state’s far-reaching transfer policy unreasonable and insufficient.

State and city leaders must find a way to improve Kansas City’s neighborhood schools so students don’t have to travel long distances to receive a quality education. The financial consequences of transfers would make that task more difficult.

Kansas City Public Schools, which lost provisional accreditation in 2012, managed with focused efforts from teachers, students and community volunteers to earn 60 percent of the points possible in its last review. That’s more than the 50 percent needed for provisional accreditation. Superintendent Stephen Green appealed to Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and the state Board of Education for provisional status.

But that would mean violating the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s timetable. Because of that, and the Kansas City district’s history of poor performance, Nicastro wants to see long-term improvements, especially in academic scores.

It’s hard to fault the commissioner’s reasoning. Something must be done to reverse the long arc of failure of the Kansas City Public Schools.

But provisional accreditation, which the state board could still grant against Nicastro’s recommendation, would spare the region from the harmful transfer policy. It already has created a financial crisis for the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts in the St. Louis area. The law requires unaccredited districts to foot the bills for the transferring students’ tuition and transportation. Receiving districts in the St. Louis area are struggling to maintain reasonable class sizes and deal with classroom churn.

Kansas City has avoided transfers thus far because of a court case that is in the appeals process. It is expected to be decided this year. If it upholds the transfer law, students would likely begin moving to new districts at the start of the next school year.

The best way out of this conundrum is for state lawmakers to pass legislation in 2014 limiting and clarifying the transfer policy, which was tucked into a broader 1993 education law. The legislature has been derelict in fixing the policies regarding transfers, choosing instead to punt responsibility to the courts and state education officials.

Perhaps now, with two districts in crisis and a third on the brink, lawmakers will find a way to act.

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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