Senate Chamber

The Missouri House passed a bill 85-69, aimed at allowing students to transfer out of their home school district. In a closer vote than usual, the measure now advances to the Missouri Senate.  Rep. Bill Pollitt, R-Sedalia, has tried to pass similar legislation for the last two years, falling short in 2022 when the House passed it but the Senate failed to take up his proposal.

Under the bill, students enrolled in a public school would be able to transfer out of their resident school district to a school that is participating in the program. State and federal dollars would follow the students to the new schools. However, local money would remain in the students’ home district.

While schools would have a choice on whether they would accept students, they would not be able to stop students from leaving

Transfers would not be able to begin until the 2024-25 school year. The program includes a cap of 3% of a school’s student population being able to transfer from a school to a participating one.

Students who transfer must stay in the district for a full year before they can transfer again. The legislation does not allow students to transfer into charter schools.Student-athletes in high school would not be able to participate in varsity sports for the first year of enrollment, with few exceptions.

“ I think it’s imperative that we continue to work to improve and offer more choices, and I believe open enrollment is a step in the right direction for education reform.”Pollitt said during Tuesday’s debate.  “You’re hearing things like it forces districts to compete against each other.  I believe this country is built on competition. Why should any school district in the state that is funded by part of taxpayer dollars be afraid of a competitive program?”

The bill would limit students to districts who have opted into the program.

Rep. Justin Hicks, R-Lake St. Louis, proposed an amendment to bar “race-based quotas” from impacting open enrollment.

“I believe what this amendment does altogether is ensure that open enrollment is open to all students,” he said. “It’s not based on race, ethnicity, national origin or anything like that.”

Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood, asked Hicks if he had considered whether the amendment would lead to some school districts becoming segregated.

“It ensures that it doesn’t matter what race you are… in determining which individual goes,” he said.

Rep. Maggie Nurrenbern, D-Kansas City, asked Pollitt: “Does open enrollment improve student achievement?”

He said he had been waiting for that question and has seen different reports online, some noting improvement, others not.

Multiple lawmakers Tuesday questioned one of the bill’s provisions regarding special education services.

The bill does not require receiving districts to accommodate students with existing learning disabilities if it does not have the staff to provide the needed services. Some lawmakers criticized the legislation for discriminating against disabled students.

“Which school district would be responsible to ensure that a child receives an appropriate education?” Rep. Sarah Unsicker, D-Shrewsbury, asked Pollitt.

He read from his bill stating that schools do not need to hire more staff or create a program to accommodate disabled students.

“Basically a school can reject a child based on their disabilities, is that correct?” Unsicker asked.

“They can reject a child if they don’t have staff or a program in place,” Pollitt said.

He said if a child enrolls in a nonresident school district and later requires special education services, the nonresident district would be responsible for providing those accommodations.

Unsicker said the bill does not state which district, the resident district or the one a student chooses to enroll in, is responsible for testing the child for learning disabilities.

As first reported by the Springfield News-Leader, school boards statewide have signed resolutions opposing the bill.