|School Accreditation - Student Transfers|
This Discussion Guide is part of Community Conversations –Exploring Policy Concerns at FOCUS St. Louis. Community Conversations are meant to inform citizens and initiate public discourse around the policies that affect the St. Louis region. As is the case with all public policies, these issues are complex and multi-faceted, with many stakeholders. Please keep this in mind as you discuss school accreditation and student transfers in your community.
School Accreditation – Student transfers
On June 11, 2013 the Missouri Supreme Court once again rejected legal arguments against a state statute that allows students to leave unaccredited school districts for accredited schools.
In the ruling handed down on June 11, 2013, the high court said a lower court decision incorrectly determined that the statute would be impossible to enforce and violated aspects of the Missouri Constitution.
The decision centers on a statute that allows students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to accredited schools at no expense to their families. The unaccredited district must pay for the children’s education and transportation. In the St. Louis metropolitan region, currently both Normandy and Riverview Gardens School Districts are unaccredited districts.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) advised the two districts to select one district to send buses, and a second if that district became full. Normandy chose Francis Howell School District in St. Charles County, and Riverview Gardens chose Mehlville School District in South St. Louis County and more recently Kirkwood School District in St. Louis County.
Today, the ruling stands, but the debate continues on how school districts and communities will interpret and implement the statute. The DESE guidelines are not law and are open to interpretation and possible litigation.
The State Board of Education classifies public school districts in three categories: (1)accredited, (2)-provisionally accredited and (3)-unaccredited. According to a 1993 state law, students in an unaccredited district are eligible to transfer to an accredited district in the same or adjoining county without expense to the family. The state statute requires the unaccredited school district to cover tuition and transportation costs for students transferring to accredited school districts.
When SLPS lost its accreditation in 2007, Jane Turner and three other parents representing six students attending the School District of Clayton filed a lawsuit against the Clayton and St. Louis school districts and the City of St. Louis Board of Education. Though the students lived in the SLPS district they were currently attending Clayton schools based on personal tuition agreements. The plaintiffs (the parents) contended that the SLPS district should pay for their students’ tuition as it had been stripped of its accreditation and that the Clayton district should send the tuition bills to the transitional (unaccredited) district. In the fall of 2012, SLPS regained provisional accreditation so St. Louis City children are no longer eligible to transfer under this statue.
In January 2013, Normandy School District lost its accreditation. Riverview Gardens has been unaccredited since 2006. Under the current state statue, students from both of these districts are eligible to transfer to accredited schools at no expense to their families. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education advised the two districts to select one district to send buses, and a second if that district became full.
Recently this issue has gotten a great deal of media and public attention. There have been many public meetings held in communities served by the school districts of Francis Howell, Mehlville, Kirkwood, Riverview Gardens and Normandy.
In 2012, the conversation was focused on a small group of students/families leaving SLPS to attend Clayton School District, but there is now a much larger regional conversation about equity in education in the St. Louis community.
Who Else Is Involved?
Four Possible Viewpoints
Person A believes students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens (or any unaccredited school district) should have access to all accredited public schools in the region, without cost to their families. They see a moral obligation to provide the highest quality public education to all children.
Person B believes that the challenges of accommodating such a high volume of transferring students into the accredited districts will have an overall negative impact on the standards and quality of education in the receiving districts. For that reason, there should be a limit to the number of students allowed to enroll from Normandy and Riverview Gardens (or any unaccredited school district) into neighboring districts. The limit is based on the number of students a district can reasonably accommodate and not jeopardize their accreditation standings.
Person C believes that their community is being harmed by this action. They live where they do because of the quality / reputation of the school district and they fear that the current action will negatively impact their child’s educational experience and will disrupt their community.
Person D believes that the priority should be placed on finding a way to provide high quality education to students in any unaccredited (or provisionally accredited) through increased support to the schools and community.
Questions for Consideration
Possible Action Steps (Personal, Civic and Organizational)
Links for Further Reading