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Missouri Transfer Bill May Allow Students to Attend Charter and Virtual Schools

A Missouri legislative committee has approved an update to the state's controversial school transfer law that would allow students in unaccredited schools to move to accredited ones within their districts or to opt for enrolling in charter or virtual schools.

The revision appears to have a better chance of making it into law than last year's version, which was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon, though some legislators have expressed worry over the inclusion of the virtual school option this time around.

Under the state transfer law, students in unaccredited districts can enroll in better schools in accredited districts. The unaccredited school district is responsible for paying the cost of tuition and transportation. 

Last year's attempt to amend the controversial state law included a provision that students seeking to leave unaccredited school districts could transfer to private and non-religious schools. That portion has been dropped from the version that was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The latest iteration of the bill would allow students who attend an unaccredited school for one semester to transfer to an accredited school in that same district or, if no seats are available, enroll in a charter school. The provision also says that students can attend virtual schools.

David Pearce, a Republican from Warrensburg and the education committee chairman, says he is uncomfortable with such "a huge expansion of virtual education," the paper reports.  Others, like state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat who represents the St. Louis suburb of University City, said that including the virtual school option increases opportunities for parents and students, including for those parents whose children may have been bullied at school or who may have misgivings about their children attending schools with a large number of transfer students.

The tuition reimbursement portion of the bill is similar to last year's version, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The tuition rate will be determined by the receiving school district. Those districts that choose to charge 90 percent of the rate will receive the 10 percent supplement from a state fund set up for that purpose. Districts that charge 70 percent or less of the sending district's tuition will not have transfer students' tests scores counted for five years, and the state department of education would consider this when making a determination on whether a district will receive a status of accredited with distinction, according to the paper.

The committee's consideration of the transfer bill came as a St. Louis Circuit Court judge ruled that local school districts cannot reject transfer students from the Normandy Schools Collaborative.

Normandy, an unaccredited district, was taken over by the state board of education last year as the district faced financial ruin from the mounting cost of transfer payments for students leaving to attend schools in accredited districts.

Judge Michael D. Burton ruled that the state must assign Normandy an "unaccredited" rating, undoing one of the first actions of the state board of education when it took control of the district and named it a "state oversight district."  

Changing the accreditation status to "state oversight district" was one way to avoid the transfer payments, which cover tuition and transportation. 

The state's decision prompted many of the nearby school boards to declare that they would not accept Normandy's students. Some Normandy parents sued, and in an August ruling, Burton said that the state's actions were illegal and that the schools must accept the students. However, the ruling applied narrowly to the districts that were named as defendants in the lawsuit. All but the Francis Howell school district allowed the students to return, according to the paper.

The paper reported that nearly 420 students from Normandy attend other schools under the state transfer law, and 84 have applied to do the same for the 2015-16 school year.

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