The House has approved a proposal to make it easier for students who face a long bus ride to school to change districts. Some oppose the bill, calling it a first step toward open enrollment.
It would require the Commissioner of Education to reassign students to a different district if their drive to school takes too long, goes too far or has to go around natural barriers, if certain conditions are met.
Some lawmakers, like Margo McNeil (D-Florissant), said the bill leads down a path they don’t want to take. “This is a defacto open enrollment bill, and I don’t know that we are ready to go there yet.”
McNeil says there is already a process in place to apply for hardship transfers. “It takes a while, but it works.”
The measure’s sponsor, Representative Rodney Schad (R-Versailles), disagrees that the process works. He says those applications go before board of arbitrations made up of current or retired school administrators that always deny the applications.
Schad’s proposal requires the Commissioner to approve applications when the driving distance from a students residents to his or her home district is ten miles or more, but another district’s school is at least five miles closer. The transfer can not put the receiving school’s classroom over the number of students per class set by school improvement standards.
The bill also removes language in statute that an application can be denied if it will result in “educational harm.” Schad says that term is not defined.
Schad also disputes the claim that the legislation is a step toward open enrollment, and says he does not support that concept.
Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City) reminded his colleagues of what parents said in a committee hearing.
“We heard testimony from a parent whose child had accidents on the way to and from school that left them subject to ridicule from other kids because the bus ride was so long. We heard another parent testify that the roads and the length of the travel required to get to the school were so difficult and the roads were so dangerous that he was afraid every single day that his children left on the bus to go to school.”
Barnes accused opponents of the plan of putting school administrators ahead of children. “It seems that arbitrary geographical boundaries, to the opposition, have more importance the vast, detrimental effect of one hour trips each way to school have on children.”
The bill narrowly passed, 85-72 and now goes to the Senate for consideration.
AUDIO: Representative Rodney Schad presents his bill, 2:23