July 23, 2014

Private school options considered for unaccredited districts’ students

A joint interim committee considering the plight of students in unaccredited school districts has held its final hearing. Now, its members will consider how to use what they have learned.

The last session of the Joint Interim Committee on School Accreditation was held in St. Louis, though those connected to troubled Kansas City-area schools drove across the state to weigh in as well. During the meeting, Co-Chair, Senator Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield) says she and other lawmakers heard impassioned stories from officials, parents and students about just how serious the situation has become.

Senator Jane Cunningham (R-Chesterfield)

According to Cunningham, students in the St. Louis City school district are being “locked” in failing schools. By law, students in districts that have lost accreditation can apply to, and must be accepted in, surrounding districts. She says those applications are being refused, “and so, they are not getting their present rights.”

She plans to file a bill that reflects the testimony she heard during the Committee’s hearings. For her, that means seeking legislative approval for private schools to accept students living in districts that have lost accreditation. She says, “…we certainly have excellent ones out there who are willing to take these children and provide them an excellent education, and the other advantage that they noted to us was they’re in the city, or very near the city, so we would not have to spend the money and the time transporting the students out to county districts.”

She also anticipates lawmakers considering the expansion of charter schools, encouraging surrounding school districts to open their own charters in the St. Louis City Limits, expanding online virtual school options for parents who want that to help meet the needs of the number of students who will seek transfer.

State law addresses paying for the transfer of students from unaccredited districts, by requiring those districts to send tuition to cover costs for those students to attend other schools. Cunningham says the St. Louis City school district spends $16,092 per student. “That is probably more than any surrounding county districts or most any private school; even elite ones. It’s very little more than that for the most elite private schools in St. Louis.

Testimony the Committee heard in its last meeting included that from a St. Louis area Army recruiter, who discussed an entrance test that requires a score no lower than 30 to be considered to serve in the Army. She told lawmakers she attended the graduation of a St. Louis City high school valedictorian who wanted to serve her country, and scored a 4 on that test. The recruiter said the average of the St. Louis City district on that entrance test is 24.

She expects to have a bill ready to pre-file by mid-December. If it can’t achieve passage, she sees another option. “We might look to enforcing the law and possibly having to level a penalty against school districts that are violating the law,” meaning those who are refusing applications of students looking to come to them and get out of unaccredited districts. Senator Cunningham says that would mean going after their school funding. “I don’t know how else to do it.”