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Missouri Bill Would Allow Student Transfers to Private, Nonreligious Schools

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Missouri lawmakers on Tuesday reached an agreement that would clear the way for public school students to attend private, nonreligious schools, but it still needs the approval of Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who has expressed his opposition to the idea. 

According to a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, lawmakers spent more than eight hours working on a compromise to fix problems with the student transfer law, which was upheld in a Missouri Supreme Court ruling last summer.

The House and Senate passed different changes to the law that had to be hashed out in committee before being sent to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon for his signature. Nixon said in the story that he opposes the student transfers, which would send public dollars to private schools, but has not threatened to veto the bill.

The current transfer law permitted more than 2,200 children to transfer from the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts into higher-performing schools in the St. Louis region. The Post-Dispatch reported that those transfers cost the students' home districts roughly $15 million in tuition and transportation expenses.

According to the story, the committee's bill would require students to attend an unaccredited school in an unaccredited district for a semester before transferring to an accredited building within their district. Once those district seats are filled, students still seeking transfers could enroll in an accredited district or a charter school elsewhere.

Following voter approval, students attending unaccredited schools in Jackson County, the city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and adjoining counties could also transfer to private, nonreligious schools. Local tax revenue would pay the tuition costs.

If local voters block the private school transfer option and a district remains unaccredited for three years, the bill would override voters' wishes and students would be granted permission to enroll in private, nonreligious schools. The local school board of the receiving district would set the transfer student tuition rate and transportation does not have to be provided.

If Missouri's governor signs off on these changes, it will be challenging for parents and local school boards to jump through this measure's multiple hoops so that students enrolled in struggling schools can attend higher-performing schools.

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