Missouri Parents Fight for School Transfer Law

Published October 26, 2014

The ongoing struggle between parents and the Missouri government over the state’s school transfer law is another example of politics and bureaucracy winning out over parents, children, and their futures.

A judge ruled in late August in favor of parents and allowed students to return to the accredited districts to which they had legally transferred under a state law the previous year. This is a victory, but it has been largely limited to the families directly involved in the fight. The history of this conflict shows there is every reason to believe politicians and officials will continue to manipulate the school transfer law in order to stop it from functioning as it should.

The law says students attending school in an unaccredited district are allowed to transfer out to a nearby district that has accreditation.

School and state officials have been doing everything in their power to stop this from happening. The tactics have included requesting special, temporary accreditation of some sort and trying to claim the state has taken over and that should be considered accreditation. The education bureaucrats are trying to make students who successfully left the unaccredited districts return to those districts this school year.

Two thousand students transferred out of the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens districts last year. Officials have gone out of their way to fight as few as 10 families representing 17 students at a time to keep the transfer law from standing.

Missouri uses students’ performance on the Annual Performance Report (APR) in grading the effectiveness of schools and determining accreditation status. The system takes into account academic achievement, achievement in subgroups such as students with limited proficiency in English, college- and career- or high-school readiness, attendance rate, and graduation rate. In 2014, Normandy scored 7.1 percent on the APR. Riverview Gardens scored 45.4 percent. The graduation rate in Normandy is just 45.5 percent, and in Riverview Gardens it is 64 percent.

Alleged attempts to improve or fix the transfer law have turned out to be nothing more than efforts to stop transfers and prevent the law from working. Some Democrats support overhauling the transfer law in hopes of keeping students, and their state education funds, trapped in the unaccredited districts. Some Republicans have supported the overhaul because affluent residents do not want low-income students transferring into their schools.

Both sides have tried to gin up sympathy for the education establishment by noting the sending school districts lose money when students transfer. But the system should be designed to benefit the students, not the districts.

The Missouri Supreme Court has already upheld the transfer law. In August another judge decided in favor of the parents, who are trying only to provide the best education their children are allowed under the letter of the law.

But in districts such as Francis Howell, only families named in the original lawsuit are allowed to send their children back to the school districts to which they transferred. The districts have refused to accept the court’s decision as a precedent and will not allow all the transfer students to return to the accredited districts. A class-action lawsuit is in the works to force them to do so. Until now, parents have been individually filing petitions with the courts.

Among those fighting to be allowed to transfer are the families of 300 students who want to return to the accredited Ferguson-Florissant School District. Despite the recent events and unrest in Ferguson, these families are doing everything in their power to guarantee their children go to the district’s schools rather than be forced back to Normandy. If that doesn’t make state and school officials examine the quality of education being provided by the Normandy district, what will?