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Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon Vetoes Student Transfer Bill

For the second straight year, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has vetoed a bill meant to overhaul the state's existing student transfer law.

In a statement, Nixon, a Democrat, said the bill, HB 42, did not address the problems that unaccredited districts faced under the state's transfer law, and it  would have created new problems along with additional mandates for schools.

HB 42 was an attempt to address deficiencies in the state's controversial student transfer law, which allows students to transfer from an unaccredited district to an accredited one, with the home district footing the tuition costs. The measure would have permitted students who attend unaccredited schools for one semester to transfer to accredited schools in the same district—an attempt to reduce the tuition costs associated with sending those children to better performing schools in accredited districts. Students also would have been able to transfer to charter and virtual schools.

"In its original form, HB 42 focused on trying to solve the well-known problems of the current transfer law, and address serious flaws in last year's attempt at a legislative solution,"  Nixon said. "However, as the legislative process unfolded, this bill veered off track. By the time it got to my desk, it mandated expensive voucher schemes, neglected accountability, and skirted the major, underlying difficulties in the transfer law, while creating a host of potential new problems for districts across the state."

Nixon cited four main reasons for vetoing the bill: 

  • Taxpayers would pay for private vouchers for students to attend virtual schools, while those schools had no public accountability or oversight by a school board.
  • The bill created more bureaucracy and larger mandates.
  • There was no reasonable tuition limit that receiving districts could charge transferring students, which would continue to drain financial resources from the sending districts.
  • Hundreds of transfer students could be forced to return to their resident districts, a process Nixon said would be "disruptive, counterproductive and unfair to students and their families."

The new bill had divided the education community, with hundreds of messages flowing into the governor's office, pressuring him from both sides.

Charter school associations campaigned in favor of the bill, saying that it would expand school choice for students stuck in struggling schools. But educators in some of the state's larger school systems said the proposed fix did not address the problem that transfers caused in unaccredited districts,  and that the bill instead catered to special interests.

The bill was also opposed by the state's School Board Association; the Missouri National Education Association; the American Federation of Teachers Missouri; and the state's Association of Rural Education; among others.

Nixon vetoed last year's proposed fix largely because it would have allowed students to transfer to private, non-religious schools. But he was also troubled by a provision that would have allowed districts that lowered tuition payments for transferring students to avoid counting those students test scores in state accountability measures.

There are currently two unaccredited school districts in the state, both in the St. Louis area: Normandy Schools Collaborative (which the state took over in 2014) and Riverview Gardens. The cost of the transfers has weighed heavily on the districts, with Normandy coming close to bankruptcy before the state takeover.

This week, 22 districts in the St. Louis County-area that accept students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens agreed to collaborate on a host of  programs to help the two unaccredited districts improve academic programs and reduce costs. Lower tuition was one of the items on the list.

Nixon's veto also means that charter schools will remain restricted to the Kansas City and St. Louis school districts. The law would have permitted charter schools to operate throughout St. Louis and Jackson counties, except in districts with fewer than 3,000 students..

Nixon's veto was not a surprise.  The Kansas City Star quotes state Sen. Maria Chappelle, a Democrat, who put out a statement before the veto, decrying Nixon's yet-to-be taken action.

"This veto is indefensible and unfathomable," the statement read in part. "It is sad to watch this governor kowtow to the education establishment's army of highly paid lobbyists over the interests of our young people and their parents."

Since the bill passed by a slim margin in May, the veto will likely hold, according to the Star.

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