Missouri Lawmakers May Take Choice from Desperate Students

Published January 23, 2014

Several Missouri lawmakers have proposed bills to change how students transfer among unaccredited and accredited schools in the academically dismal St. Louis school system.

Currently, children who are zoned into a school district that has lost state accreditation have the option of attending school in another nearby school district, with the unaccredited district paying their tuition. Near St. Louis, the Riverview Gardens and Normandy districts are unaccredited.

The nearby school districts have complained at having to take in poor-performing students who don’t pay taxes in their area. The unaccredited districts have complained at being required to pay tuition and transportation costs for students leaving their schools. Normandy faces bankruptcy without a $5 million state bailout.

“Many see school choice itself as the problem,” said James Shuls, a Show-Me Institute education analyst. “Therefore, the overarching theme of most of the proposals is a limitation on transfers. Some proposals would do this by changing accreditation from the district level to the school level. This means students in accredited schools within an unaccredited district would not be allowed to transfer. Other proposals would give the higher performing districts more discretion to limit the number of students entering.”

There is little consensus among lawmakers on the problem, much less a solution, he said.

Districts lose state accreditation when they score below 50 percent on the Missouri School Improvement Program criteria.

‘Dysfunctional Families’
“What is most important is the flawed premise upon which the entire ‘transfer’ issue has been based and framed,” said J. Martin Rochester, a politics professor at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis, “namely, the assumption that the number one problem with Normandy, Riverview, and other such districts is the faulty schools, including bad teachers and curricula, when at least half the problem—indeed, the larger factor—is the often-dysfunctional families these schools serve.”

Rochester listed one-parent households, failure to read to the kids, excessive television watching, and unenforced or lack of homework as leading to a weak learning environment: “There is a limit to what any school can do, even the best school, in the absence of strong home support systems that support academics.”

He said “it is grossly misleading” for anyone to suggest the failing schools need more money, as Normandy spends more than the Francis Howell school district its transfer students are being bused into. He also doesn’t think transferring into better-performing districts will necessarily help the kids stuck in unaccredited schools.

It would help for the state to be “placing less emphasis on inputs and focusing more on the outcomes of students,” Shuls said.

“Urban schools remain an important, huge societal challenge, but we stand little chance of addressing that challenge if we keep coming up with simplistic bromides,” Rochester said.


Image by Ryan M