September 1, 2014

Lawmakers further tweak ‘private option’ in student transfer proposal

House and Senate lawmakers have made more changes to language in a proposed fix to Missouri’s student transfer law that would allow public tax dollars to go to nonreligious private schools.

A conference committee of legislators from both chambers voted to allow local tax dollars from public schools that are unaccredited for three years pay for their students to nearby private, nonsectarian schools. Such transfers could only happen if there are no openings in accredited schools in the same district.  Districts could vote to allow such use of local tax dollars before the three years are up.

Committee Chairman David Pearce (R-Warrensburg) says the provision is limited to certain urban areas of Missouri.

“This is not every district across the state. It’s very limited, in fact this is in St. Louis City, St. Louis County and Jackson County,” says Pearce. “The thought was these districts aren’t performing … and with three years, regardless of whether [the district holds] an election or not, to have the private, nonsectarian option, then [students] will have that option.”

Legislators have made several attempts to refine the so-called “private option.”  Supporters say in some unaccredited school districts, allowing transfers to private schools would offer the only option for some students that wouldn’t require them to travel long distances each day to school.  Several senators believe the legislation would not pass out of the Senate without a private school provision.

Opponents say the entire bill is merely an attempt to divert public tax dollars to private schools and call it a step toward vouchers.  Governor Jay Nixon (D) has said he can not support legislation that includes a private school provision.

The committee met for seven hours Monday. It continues its hearing Tuesday morning and Pearce hopes to complete its work today so that both chambers can consider a transfer fix before the close of the session on Friday.