The office of Governor Jay Nixon (D) has said the state Constitution prohibits the use of tax dollars to support private schools. Backers of the legislature’s proposed student transfer law fix disagree, and say the Constitution only says tax dollars can’t go to religious schools.

That legislation contains a provision that would allow money generated by local tax levys that support unaccredited districts in Jackson or St. Louis Counties or St. Louis to go to private schools that accept students transferring from those districts’ schools. Such transfers could only happen after approval by local voters, or after three years of the district being unaccredited.

Nixon’s office says that proposal would violate three sections of the Constitution that govern the use of state funds (Article III Section 38), money that goes into the state school fund (Article IX Section 5), and the levying of taxes (Article X Section 3).

Critics of the bill are urging Nixon to veto it and call a special session to create a new one.

An Associate Teaching Professor with the University of Missouri School of Law, Brad Desnoyer, discusses how each of those sections might be interpreted in the debate, and points to one he thinks might make for a better argument for opponents of the legislation.

Desnoyer thinks opponents of the bill would be better served by Article X, Section 11(g), which deals with the operating levy for the Kansas City School District.

“This says that in Kansas City the operating levy is for schools of the district, so I think right there you have a problem,” says Desnoyer, “because you can’t be sending money in Kansas City to private schools.”

Desnoyer says the lawmakers who worked on the proposal went to great lengths to try and make it fit the Constitution. He thinks that’s why it was changed so that it no longer covers the costs to transport students who are transferring.

“One reason to get rid of the bussing is if they included the bussing, then it’s unconstitutional because you can’t bus students to private schools [on public school buses]. We know that,” says Desnoyer. “So, if we’re being cynical, the reason they got rid of that provision was to put in the [private] school choice provision.”

The proposed transfer law is SB 493.