House bill would allow public school student transfers in Missouri

Julie Smith/News Tribune
Former educator and administrator Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, answeres questions Wednesday regarding  HB 253, proposedd legislation that would establish transfer prodedures to nonresident districts for students in public schools. Pollitt sat before a committee in Hearing Room 7 in front of fellow legislators to present information detailing some of the points of the proposal.
Julie Smith/News Tribune Former educator and administrator Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, answeres questions Wednesday regarding HB 253, proposedd legislation that would establish transfer prodedures to nonresident districts for students in public schools. Pollitt sat before a committee in Hearing Room 7 in front of fellow legislators to present information detailing some of the points of the proposal.

Missouri students could apply to transfer to another public school district under a bill heard Wednesday by the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.

HB 253, sponsored by Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, is another iteration of a bill that has previously made its way out of the House and the Senate Education committee but has never made it to the governor's desk.

Pollitt, himself an educator of 34 years, said the bill would help give parents some choices when it comes to public education.

Thirty-four states have a policy allowing students to attend districts outside their resident areas, Pollitt said, and average participation ranges from 3 to 8 percent.

While parents of students could choose to apply to leave a district without needing permission, it is the receiving district's choice whether to opt in to the program to receive new students and to set limits on how many students it will take, at what grade level, and in what building. The bill also sets a cap of 4 percent to the number of students that can transfer out of a district for the first three years and creates a public school choice fund of $80 million. The parent is responsible for transportation, but families may be entitled to transportation if the student is eligible for free and reduced lunch. The fund can supplement the costs of transportation incurred by a district or parents.

"If you do not have transportation ... the receiving district will provide you transportation," Pollitt said, adding that a school bus or some other kind of shuttle could be used. "And then quarterly, (the district's) expenses would be reimbursed from the parent fund."

Transportation has been a sticking point for legislators in the past with the bill, Politt said, but this bill addresses that.

"You're going to hear things like 'forcing districts to compete against each other,'" Pollitt said, addressing potential pushback to his bill.

"This country was built on competition. Why shouldn't a school district that wants to participate in sports be willing to participate under taxpayer dollars, why would they be afraid to compete in academic programs? We don't seem to have an issue with competing in other places," Pollitt said.

For some, the bill didn't go far enough. Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, asked whether charter schools were able to participate under the bill. Pollitt said they would not be.

"While I am a supporter of open enrollment, my support for this particular bill is tepid because of the exclusion of certain public schools," Christofanelli said. He also said it might be difficult to appropriate the money for the special fund the bill creates.

Pollitt said he felt confident that it would be funded.

Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood, said she worried the funding could not be renewed in the future as well.

Pollitt said that applies to many other areas of education, such as teacher pay.

"We are doing a lot of things in this House, trying to punt more money into education with no real promises that that money's going to be there years down the road," he said.

Several groups testified in support, including Aligned, the American Federation for Children, and Americans for Prosperity. Many of them said they appreciated the choice the bill presented for families.

"We understand that the traditional neighborhood public school will be a great option for many families and students; however, it won't always be the best option for all students," said Tashayla Person, vice president of policy for the Quality Schools Coalition.

Several educators spoke in opposition to the bill, including Kyle Kruse, superintendent of St. Clair R-13 School District.

"A note the chairman said was that competition is a good thing, and he and I agree on that, but it's not competition if the rules aren't fair and the playing field isn't level," he said.

He described the St. Clair school district as a "have-not" district with a low tax rate and assessed valuation.

"If this bill goes through, we expect to lose a hundred or more students," he said. "Some will go play softball at Sullivan because they have a state-contending team, some to Union because they have a beautiful gymnasium, some to Pacific because of their weight room facilities. Our football team was undefeated in a recent year in the regular season, but we'll lose kids because our facilities are not as nice, and we can't afford to fix that.

"We'll lose younger students because their parents find it more convenient to move them somewhere else, and as we're so state-dependent on the funding formula, we lose a hundred kids, our have-not district loses about $400,000."

HB 253: Establishes transfer procedures to nonresident districts for students in public schools

https://bit.ly/3kwUnMD

Sponsor: Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia

  photo  Julie Smith/News Tribune photo: Former educator and administrator Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, answeres questions Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2023, regarding HB 253, proposedd legislation that would establish transfer prodedures to nonresident districts for students in public schools. Pollitt sat before a committee in Hearing Room 7 in front of fellow legislators to present information detailing some of the points of the proposal.
 
 

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