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School Accreditation - Student Transfers
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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.
 
Background
 
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?
  • EducationPlus, formerly The Cooperating School Districts (CSD), which provides administrative, business and professional development services to member districts is providing common ground for working through the administrative issues involved and assistance in standardizing the process.  
  • Five of the North St Louis County districts (Jennings, Hazelwood, Ferguson-Florissant, Riverview Gardens and Normandy) appear to be working in partnership to address the needs and concerns of the Northeast St Louis County residents which includes the students that do not transfer.  As of early August 2013, Normandy would have approximately 74 percent of its student body staying, while Riverview Gardens would have approximately 76 percent.
  • Potentially all Missouri school districts in the St. Louis region. According to final numbers released August 5, 2013 by CSD, 2,640 students had filed transfer applications, including 1,189 from Normandy and 1,451 from Riverview Gardens. These students are transferring to 23 different school districts within the St. Louis metropolitan region.  The total includes students living in Normandy and in Riverview Gardens who have not been attending public schools but are still entitled to transfer under the law.
  • Charter, private and parochial schools as options to traditional public education.
  • Civic leadership, media, faith and community groups.

 

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
  1. Which of the four viewpoints in this scenario do you most closely align with A, B, C or D? Why?
  2. What are the implications of student transfers?  Social implications – what it the community impact, what is the impact on the individual child? Economic implications – on the impacted districts (those losing students and those gaining), what is the economic impact on communities?
  3. Are there policies and practices that may need to change? Missouri constitution guarantees all children the right to a free public education. 
  4. How do we ensure high quality education throughout the region?

Possible Action Steps (Personal, Civic and Organizational)

 

  • Help support your local school and families where possible.
  • Help shape educational policy / Work with leadership and elected officials.
  • Attend school board meetings.
  • Run for a school board position.
  • Help create school partnerships.
  • Foster constructive conversations on these challenging topics among friends, family and colleagues.

Links for Further Reading

  1. St. Louis Public Radio/The Beacon Missouri Legislative Tracker
  2. St. Louis Beacon's complete coverage of school transfer law
  3. St. Louis Post-Dispatch's complete coverage: School Transfers: Understanding the Details
  4. St. Louis American's complete coverage of school transfer
  5. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education: What Happens When a School District Becomes Unaccredited?
  6. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education – Guidance for Student Transfers from Unaccredited Districts to Accredited Districts: Revised July 23, 2013
  7. Information regarding the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC Program)
  8. July 1, 2014 St. Louis Public Radio article: New Normandy Begins With Advice, Determination To Change
  9. June 3, 2014 St. Louis Public Radio article: Compromise On Private School Transfers May Be Out Of Reach, Lawmakers Say
  10. April 22, 2014 St. Louis Public Radio article: Normandy Task Force Ponders How District Will Be Governed
  11. February 21, 2014 St. Louis Post Dispatch article: Missouri Senate panel moves closer on school transfer law bill
  12. February 18, 2014 St. Louis Public Radio/The Beacon article: Missouri Board Of Education To Take Over Normandy's Finances
  13. January 23, 2014 St. Louis Post Dispatch article: Normandy schools going broke, at a crossroads: student could be dispersed
  14. October 24, 2013 St. Louis Beacon article: Normandy board votes not to pay tuition for transfer students
  15. October 2, 2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: Missouri legislators hear pleas to address school transfer law
  16. October 1, 2013 FOX2 post: Unaccredited schools look for support in state capitol
  17. September 30, 2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: Normandy pays first tuition bill for student transfers to Francis Howell
  18. August 20, 2013 St. Louis Public Radio post FAQ: What you need to know about Missouri school transfers
  19. August 6, 2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: No Shortage of Legal Advice for Families
  20. August 5, 2013 St. Louis Beacon article: ACLU Says Schools Can’t Legally Limit Transfers
  21. August 5, 2013 St. Louis Beacon article: Kids Don’t See Eye to Eye on Transfers
  22. August 1, 2013 St. Louis American article: NAACP Tackles Achievement Gap
  23. July 31, 2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: Riverview Gardens Chooses Kirkwood as Second Busing Option.
  24. July 31, 2013 NY Times article: In Missouri, Race Complicates a Transfer to Better Schools
  25. July 30, 2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article: Mehlville’s Lack of Class Space Raises Concerns
  26. A staff report of The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights – School Desegregation in Kirkwood, MO July, 1977
 

 

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