The full court press could be put on an open enrollment bill this year in the Missouri Legislature. School choice measures are on the minds of many Republican lawmakers during this major election year.

For the past three years, the proposal has narrowly passed in the House but has died in the Senate. Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, is sponsoring the bill for the fourth year. Pollitt is a former public school teacher and administrator.

His bill would let K-12 public schools decide if they want to allow students from neighboring districts to enroll in their district.

“You’ll hear things that this forces competition among school districts,” Pollitt told the Missouri House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee. “I’m totally in favor of competing with our programs, with their sports. There’s nothing in this bill that requires a school district to consolidate. It does put in the hands of the local taxpayers, who have a student in a local district, the ability to shape the future of that district.”

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, supports the legislation. Lewis is a former high school chemistry and physics teacher.

“I think that if we don’t institute open enrollment of some form, and I think yours is the best product that we have at this point, in two years there will be fewer public school students than there would be if we didn’t institute open enrollment,” said Lewis.

Rep. Kathy Steinhoff, D-Columbia, said she does not think the bill will allow all Missouri students to have a choice, such as students with disabilities and discipline records.

Rep. Gary Bonacker, R-House Springs, opposes the plan.

“We have a great number of students who live within three to five miles of another district school system, and it would be real convenient for them to move on to that district. That is our better students,” he said. “It worries me that my school district is going to slide downhill academically.”

Last month, the Missouri Board of Education approved its legislative platform, which includes voluntary open enrollment legislation. The board voted 6-2 in favor of the position. Carol Hallquist, of Kansas City, and Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge, of Pasadena Hills, were in opposition.

The committee has not yet voted on Pollitt’s bill. To see House Bill 1989, click here.

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