WHAT OTHERS SAY: Missouri should fix troubled schools, scrap the transfer law

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 | 6:25 p.m. CDT

Suddenly, it seems, nearly everyone in Jefferson City has a plan to deal with failing schools.

Lawmakers have filed multiple bills in response to the crisis created on the eastern side of the state by the ill-considered policy that allows students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to better-performing districts. One bill has already passed the Senate.

It’s good that lawmakers are finally paying attention to struggling schools and districts. But the last thing Missouri needs is to overlay one bad idea — the transfer provision — with measures that will make matters worse.

For example, the bill passed by the Senate allows students to attend nonreligious private schools in certain circumstances, with the unaccredited school district paying part of the tuition. Public money needs to be used to fix public schools, not be siphoned off by private schools, which might have selective admission standards.

On the House side, some lawmakers favor transferring under-performing schools into a statewide “achievement district.” That’s an overly broad measure; the causes of and solutions to problems in schools are not all the same. Oversight and intervention should be locally based.

A new wrinkle is the limited response so far among Kansas City families to the transfer option. While more than 2,000 students transferred out of the two unaccredited districts near St. Louis, only 12 families with 23 children have applied to transfer out of the unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools.

Busing children out of their communities was never a viable option. The state should get rid of the transfer provision and concentrate on preventing districts from failing in the first place.

Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro has acknowledged that reality with a plan calling for early monitoring of schools that show signs of slipping, and more aggressive corrective measures for buildings that are provisionally accredited or unaccredited. The Board of Education is scheduled to vote on that plan later this month.

Rep. Jeanie Lauer, R-Blue Springs, has filed an intriguing House bill that also proposes a structure for struggling schools to get help quickly from a team of educators who are associated with more successful schools of the same size and demographics as the ones requiring attention. Lauer’s bill appears to hold all entities accountable, including the education department.

Conflicting and sometimes inappropriate agendas have long hampered efforts to help struggling schools in Missouri. The task now is for the Board of Education and the legislature to draw clear lines of jurisdiction and mutually embrace policies that will help public schools and their students.

Copyright Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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