The state House has approved a plan to change a 21-year-old law that lets students transfer out of failing schools into better ones. House Republicans pared back significantly a provision that would make private schools one of the places those students could go.

Representative Rick Stream (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Representative Rick Stream carried the student transfer fix legislation in the House.  (photo courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Transfers have been occurring this year in two suburban St. Louis Districts and the cost of paying to transfer their students prompted lawmakers to try to change the law.

Under the bill, students who have been in an unaccredited school in an unaccredited district for at least one semester could first go to a better-performing school in that district. If no space is available, those students could then transfer to a neighboring district or to a charter school or nonreligious private school in the same or an adjoining county.

The changes to the private school portion would limit it to Jackson County, St. Louis County and St. Louis City. Private schools accepting transfer students would have to follow state laws regarding safety and student performance. Local voters would have to approve such transfers.

“We have taken away every argument usually used by the folks I would call the ‘education establishment’ against the private option,” says Representative Jay Barnes (R-Jefferson City).

Some Democrats were not satisfied. Representative Margo McNeil (D-Florissant) says she spent much of the session working on the bill and now can’t support it.

“This is the purpose of this entire bill,” says McNeil. “Really it has not been about fixing the transfer problem, which was a very simple problem. It has been, ‘How do we get passed in the State of Missouri … a bill that puts public money in the hands of private schools?”

The House proposes having sending districts pay 70 percent of their own tuition costs for students who transfer, plus additional money to cover transportation. Receiving districts could also set class size standards to avoid overcrowding.

The House passage means the bill goes back to the Senate. It is expected to wind up in a conference between the two chambers.

See how House members voted on the transfer proposal