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Judge Rules Kansas City Student Transfers Violate State Law

A Missouri circuit court judge sided Thursday with three school districts that said they would suffer financial harm if students from the unaccredited Kansas City, Mo. school system were allowed to transfer in to their smaller, accredited districts.

But Judge W. Brent Powell acknowledged in his ruling that his decision would "undoubtedly be appealed," and could very well be reversed or significantly altered.

The 17,000-student Kansas City district lost its accreditation in January, and as I wrote at that time, surrounding districts were bracing themselves for a potential influx of students. Missouri state law allows students to transfer from an unaccredited district to a neighboring, accredited school system.

However, the districts surrounding Kansas City were fighting those potential transfers based on another provision of state law, called the Hancock Amendment, which is intended to protect taxpayers from shouldering extra costs based on state mandates. Kansas City said that it would pay surrounding jurisdictions about $3,700 per transfer student, but the districts said their actual costs would be far more.

The surrounding jurisdictions commissioned a poll of Kansas City parents to find out how many might transfer out of the city district. More than 7,700 parents indicated they would do so if they had the option and did not need to pay tuition costs.

The judgment was a victory for three Kansas City-area districts—Independence, Lee's Summit and North Kansas City—which were able to demonstrate to the court that the cost of educating transfer students from Kansas City would impose a financial burden. Two additional districts that were party to the suit, Blue Springs and Raytown, did not demonstrate financial hardship, Judge Powell wrote, assuming that Kansas City were able to make its tuition payments.

In a statement, the superintendent of Kansas City, R. Stephen Green, said that the judge's ruling "protects the educational resources of more than 16,000 students and avoids a tragedy." The ruling, he added, "helps clear up some gray areas regarding accreditation transfers, but it also leaves a cloudy path as KCPS moves forward. We anticipate legal challenges to Judge Powell's ruling that will provide further clarity on this issue. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on reaccreditation and student achievement."

Jim Hinson, the superintendent of Independence, one of the prevailing districts, said in a statement that education of students outside the district "cannot be our taxpayers' burden." Raytown, one of the district's that the judge said did not prove financial hardship, said in response to the ruling that it would not accept any transfer students without tuition being paid in full.

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