Explaining the Student Transfer Bill

How does this impact districts outside of St. Louis and Kansas City?

The bill only has minimal impact outside of the metropolitan St. Louis and Kansas City areas. The vast majority of provisions attempt to bring order and rationality to the chaotic transfer law in existing statutes. Nonetheless, there are a few provisions which have statewide impact:

1.      School Calendar from Days to Hours[1] – The bill converts the current statutory requirement of 174 school days to 1,080 hours of pupil attendance. This equates to approximately six more regular school days. But it also allows districts greater flexibility in how they meet this requirement. The effective date of this provision is delayed for an additional school year.

  1. School Limited to Four Days Per Week in June, July, and August; Mandatory Break for July 4[2] – The bill limits the school week to “no more than four days” in “any regular or summer school term scheduled for June, July, or August.” It also requires schools to have an entire week of break around July 4 if the holiday falls during the week, or at least 4 days if it falls on a weekend. The bill also requires a separate school board meeting if it chooses to start school more than ten calendar days prior to the first Monday in September.[3] The effective date of this provision is delayed for an additional school year.
  2. Transient Students Shall Not Count in First Year of Transfer[4] – The bill requires DESE to record and report each district’s “transient student ratio” – the measure of a district’s students who have been in the district for one entire year versus those who enrolled or left in the middle of the school year. It provides that statewide assessment scores for transient students shall not be included in a school or district’s annual APR score.
  3. Increased Minimum Teacher Salaries[5] – The bill increases the minimum teacher’s salary from $25,000 to $30,000, subject to appropriations, over a four-year period. For teachers with advanced degrees, the bill increases minimum salary from $33,000 to $35,000. To help pay for the cost of salary increases, this section creates the “Teacher Minimum Salary Fund” in the state treasury, which, subject to appropriation, shall be used to distribute appropriated moneys to schools for this purpose.
  4. K-8 District Tuition[6] – The provision clarifies that K-8 districts pay tuition only to accredited public high schools in another district in the same or an adjoining county.
  5. Allows Districts to Share a Superintendent[7] – The bill clarifies that two or more school districts may share a superintendent. This provision is identical to SB 701 which passed out of the Senate and the House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education via consent.
  6. School District Financial Requirements When Formula Underfunded – The bill includes an amendment offered by Rep. Lyle Rowland in committee that is identical to HB 1111, which extends existing law excusing districts from professional development and fund placement requirements. HB 1111 was voted out of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee by a vote of 16-1.
  7. Otherwise A+ Eligible Students Not Discriminated Against for Taking Virtual Classes[8] – The bill includes an amendment offered by Rep. Vickie Englund which clarifies that a student who is otherwise eligible for A+ cannot be made ineligible because they take virtual classes. This provision is identical to HB 1895, which passed out of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee by a vote of 17-0.
  8. District Leasing of School Buildings[9] – The bill allows school districts to sell or lease buildings to other entities. It is identical to HB 783 from 2013 which passed out of the General Laws Committee by a vote of 13-0 with no testimony in opposition.
  9. Creates Standards for Reapportioning Local Tax Effort After Boundary Change[10] – Proposed §164.432 sets rules for the re-apportioning of local effort after a district boundary change.
  10. Establishes Parent Portal Fund[11] – The bill establishes the “Parent Portal Fund” to assist districts in creating a parent portal for patens to access educational information and their children’s education data.

How does the bill pro-actively help provisionally-accredited school districts?  

The bill requires the State Board to create assistance teams for borderline and provisionally accredited districts.[12] The members of these assistance teams will vary based on the needs of the district, but will include at least ten members, including teachers, principals, and at least one parent. The assistance team’s “suggestions for improvement shall be mandatory for provisionally accredited districts, but shall not be mandatory for borderline districts.” Provisionally-accredited districts can appeal to the State Board if it has an alternative method for improvement.

How does the bill help unaccredited districts improve?

  1. Increased State Board Flexibility in Unaccredited District[13] – Last year, we passed SB 125 to empower the State Board with greater flexibility for its intervention decisions in unaccredited districts. We permitted the State Board to choose not to conduct a full-scale takeover of an unaccredited district – or to allow the existing Board to stay in place if it took actions required by the State Board. This bill increases the State Board’s flexibility by allowing it to choose to only take-over a subset of schools within an unaccredited district. For example, the State Board could choose to appoint an S.A.B. for only the unaccredited schools within an unaccredited district – leaving the local elected board in charge of the remaining accredited schools. In addition, the bill requires that at least one member of an S.A.B. be appointed by the elected school board. It allows the State Board to appoint other members of the local elected board to an S.A.B., but provides that they shall not comprise more than 49 percent of the S.A.B.’s membership.
  2. Free Tutoring and Supplemental Education[14] – The bill requires unaccredited districts to offer free tutoring and supplemental education services to students performing below grade level using funds from a new “School District Improvement Fund” – which is to be made up of gifts, bequests, and donations, and may include appropriations.
  3. Early Reading Intervention[15] The bill requires the St. Louis and Kansas City school districts to create an early reading intervention program for students in kindergarten or first-grade who test below grade level in reading. These programs would requires the districts to create a personalized learning plan to improve the student’s reading performance. If the student is still not at grade level by the end of first grade, the school is required to assess the student for an IEP. If an IEP is deemed inappropriate, the student’s personalized learning plan shall continue until they are reading at grade level.
  4. Extended School Day[16] – The bill allows any unaccredited or provisionally accredited school district to increase the length of the school day or the annual hours of instruction. The bill also creates the “Extended Learning Time Fund” to help pay for the costs of extended school days in these districts. This provision is subject to appropriations.

How does the bill impact charter schools?

The bill seeks to encourage charter schools as an option for transfer students. It does so in the following ways:

  1. Increases Public Schools as Charter Sponsors[17] – The bill would allow any single or a combination of accredited public school districts to sponsor charter schools in unaccredited districts.
  2. Gives State Board Additional Time to Approve Charter Proposals[18] – The bill moves the date by which the State Board must approve a charter from December 1 to January 31.
  3. Ensures Due Process Rights for Charter Applicants[19] – Current law provides that the State Board “may, within sixty days” of a charter application “disapprove the granting of the charter.” Current law state that the State Board “may deny” a charter within 60 days of receiving a charter application. The bill clarifies that, if the State Board fails to act in that time period, the charter is deemed approved. If the State Board disapproves, the decision must be “in writing and shall identify the specific failures of the application.”
  4. Charter Schools Subject to Same Accreditation System[20] — The bill requires DESE to calculate an APR score for each charter school and to publish it in the same manner that it does APRs for traditional public school districts and schools.
  5. Streamlined Expansion of High-Quality Charter Schools[21] – The bill encourages the expansion of high-quality charter schools by providing them “expedited opportunities to replicate and expand” in St. Louis, Kansas City, and unaccredited districts. Upon entering into a charter with a sponsor, the school is deemed approved by the State Board. This expedited process is limited to charter schools which (1) receive an APR of 75 percent of more for three of the last four years; (2) maintains a high school graduation rate of 80 percent if it operates a high school, (3) are in material compliance with existing performance contracts, and (4) are organizationally and fiscally viable.
  6. Allows Charter Schools to Accept Transfer Students[22] — The bill allows charter schools to charge the same tuition or fees that a traditional public school can charge or impose. In so doing, it permits charter schools in the same or adjoining counties to accept transfer students from unaccredited districts.
  7. The Bill Does NOT Create 10 Year Contracts for Charters -At least one education lobbying group is claiming the bill extends charter contracts from 5 to 10 years. That is NOT TRUE. The bill was amended in committee to keep that provision at 5 years.
  8. The Bill Does NOT Prohibit DESE from Closing a Charter If They are Underperforming -The same lobbying group is claiming that the bill prohibits DESE from closing underperforming charters. This claim is NOT TRUE. The provision in question was not intended to do what this lobbying group claims, and, to avoid any unintended consequences, was taken out of the bill in committee.
  9. Provides a Three-Year Financial Start-Up Period[23] — Current law includes a statute dealing with “charter schools experiencing financial stress.” The bill provides that this statute only applies to charter schools that have been in operation for three or more school years. This provision is needed because charter start-ups regularly take two to three years to develop a stable student base.

How does it impact school accreditation?

The bill moves the State Board from a system of district-level accreditation to a system with both district and individual school accreditation. It codifies the existing classifications of accredited with distinction, accredited, provisionally accredited, and unaccredited.

How does it ensure representation on the State Board for areas in which a potentially unaccredited school is located?

Before the State Board declares any district unaccredited, if there is no member of the Board from the congressional district in which the district is located, the State Board is required to inform the governor of its intent to change the classification at least thirty days before taking such action. This 30 day period will give the governor time to fill such a vacancy before the action is taken.[24]

How does the tuition work?[25]

Under current law, tuition is paid from the sending district to the receiving district at 100 percent of the out-of-district tuition rate set by the receiving district. The current ratio is bankrupting the sending districts and resulting in financial windfalls to the receiving districts.[26] This bill sets tuition at 70 percent of the sending district, regardless of the receiving district to which the transfer student is assigned. In addition, transportation shall be provided for by an additional amount equal to up to 10 percent of the sending district’s tuition.

Does this violate the Hancock’s prohibition on unfunded mandates?

No. The Supreme Court has ruled that the transfer law does not violate Hancock because (1) there’s nothing “new” or “increased” about requiring public education for eligible children, and (2) Hancock does not prohibit local-to-local burden-shifting of an existing activity or service. See Breitenfeld v. School District of Clayton, 399 S.W.3d 816 (Mo. 2013).

How may receiving districts determine classroom sizes?[27]

Under current law, there are no specific rules for receiving districts to set classroom sizes. A plain reading of the law leads to the conclusion that districts do not have any ability to limit transfers to protect reasonable classroom sizes. This bill clarifies that each potential receiving district “to establish by objective means and adopt a policy for class-size and student teacher ratios” which they “shall report” to the State Board for review. If the State Board approves of the class-size, the receiving district “shall not be required to accept any transfer students … that would violate its class-size or student-teacher ratio.” If the State Board finds that the district’s policy is “unduly restrictive to student transfers,” the Board may limit or revise implementation of the policy. In addition, no transfer shall require any receiving district to hire additional classroom teachers or construct additional classrooms.[28] It must also be noted that, contrary to the claims of at least one education lobbying group, the bill does NOT prohibit receiving districts from assuming future growth when calculating the number of available seats in their district.

How do the transfers work?

Under current law, every child whose parents live in an unaccredited district is eligible to transfer to an accredited district in the same or an adjoining county.[29] This bill provides that:

·         Transfer rights are limited to students who have attended an unaccredited school in an unaccredited district for at least one semester.[30]

·         Transfers are not allowed to other unaccredited or provisionally-accredited districts, but students may transfer to a provisionally-accredited school within their unaccredited district, if a slot is available.[31]

·         Students may transfer to (1) accredited schools within their home district, (2) accredited schools in accredited districts located in the same or an adjoining county, (3) charter schools located in the same or an adjoining county, or (4) non-sectarian private schools.

·         Parents have until April 1 to notify the transfer authority of their intent to transfer.[32]

·         The transfer authority makes transfer assignments only if (1) in-district slots are not filled organically through student or parent choice, or (2) available slots in any schools are over-subscribed. If in-district slots are not filled organically, the authority “shall ensure in-district slots are filled first.”[33] After these slots are filled, the authority shall make assignments according to the following rules:[34]

o   First priority is given to students within the same household so that they all attend the same school;

o   Transfer authority may deny transfer to student who has been suspended more than once in most recent school year or who has been suspended for an act of school violence. A student denied transfer for this reason has the right to an in-person meeting with a representative of the transfer authority.

o   If sufficient enrollment slots are available, each student gets choice of three schools to which they may transfer;

o   To the extent possible, the authority shall fill in-district seats first.

o   Transfer authority discretion to make assignments only occurs if (1) in-district slots are not naturally filled, or (2) a receiving school’s slots are over-subscribed.

o   If sufficient slots are not available within the district, transfer authority shall consider the following factors, with student or parent choice being most important:

1.      Student or parent choice

2.      Best interests of the student

3.      Length of residence in the district

4.      Student academic performance

5.      Student free and reduced lunch status, and

6.      Distance and travel-time to receiving school.

What happens when a sending district becomes accredited?

New transfers stop when a sending district becomes accredited. To ensure continuity, the students who have already started at new schools may continue to attend those schools through high school graduation.[35] Students are best served when they can keep the peer groups and relationships with teachers and other school officials where they are doing well, rather than shuttling them back-and-forth between schools.

Is the non-sectarian option constitutional?

Yes. In 2007, the Missouri Supreme Court held that spending public moneys at St. Louis University did not violate Missouri’s establishment clause because the key question under Missouri’s constitution is “whether religion so pervades the atmosphere of the university that it is in essence under religious control or directed by a religious denomination. Mere affiliation with a religion does not indicate that a higher education institution is ‘controlled by a religious creed’ for purposes of Missouri’s establishment clause.” SLU v. Masonic Temple, 220 S.W.3d 721 (Mo. 2007). The House Committee Substitute keeps the Senate’s definition of non-sectarian school – that which is not part of the public school system, charges tuition, and “does not have a religious affiliation.”[36]

Does the non-sectarian option impact formula funds or accredited districts?

No. The non-sectarian option involves funds paid solely from the sending district’s operating levy in an amount not exceed the lesser of the non-sectarian school’s previous year’s tuition or 70 percent of the sending school’s tuition. As a result, this will have no impact on formula funding. Nor will it have any impact on accredited districts.[37]

Does the bill create three different systems of school classification?

No. The Senate bill created three systems by allowing charter schools to be accredited by their sponsors and setting no long-term accreditation standards for non-sectarian schools other than the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. Amendments to the bill have been made or will be offered which subject charter schools and the transfer students attending private schools under this section to be subject to the same A.P.R. scores as traditional public schools.

[1] Proposed §160.011(9) at 3 contains main change. Other changes are spread throughout the bill.

[2] Proposed §160.041.1 at 3.

[3] Proposed §171.031.3 at 60.

[4] Proposed §162.1303 at 31-32.

[5] Proposed §163.172 at 38-39.

[6] Proposed §167.131 at 39-40.

[7] Proposed §168.205 at 57.

[8] Proposed §162.1250.3 at 30.

[9] Proposed §177.011 at 26-27.

[10] Proposed §164.432 at 40.

[11] Proposed §170.320 at 41-43.

[12] Proposed §161.086.3 at 24-25.

[13] Proposed §162.081.3(2)(a) at 26-27.

[14] Proposed §167.685 at 40.

[15] Proposed §167.730 at 41-43.

[16] Proposed §171.031.8-9 at 59-60.

[17] Proposed §160.400.3(7)-(9) at 5.

[18] Proposed §160.405.2(1) at 11.

[19] Proposed §160.405.3 at 12.

[20] Proposed §160.405.15 at 18.

[21] Proposed §160.408 at 18-19.

[22] Proposed §160.415.11 at 22.

[23] Proposed §160.417.6 at 24-25.

[24] Proposed §161.084 at 24.

[25] Proposed §167.825.5 at 43.

[26] The real-world application of transfer finances are reported in “Money Being Paid by Normandy, River Gardens to Other Districts Not Being Spent,” a February article in the Post-Dispatch by Elisa Crouch, who summarized, “There’s little dispute that transfer students have created new financial burdens for the districts now paid to serve them. Like all students, they require art supplies, desks, textbooks, and even paper towels. But with few exceptions, the new students have been absorbed into existing schools without the need of more teachers and new classrooms.”  Of the 11 districts that received more than 90 percent of the transfer students, only 4 actually added new teachers and staff. Ferguson-Florissant hired 10 new teachers to help with 440 transfer students. Francis Howell, Pattonville, and Clayton added support staff – including reading specialists, teacher’s aides, substitute teachers, and after-school supervisors. Mehlville and Kirkwood increased funding for after-school activity buses.

[27] Proposed §167.826.6 at 45.

[28] Proposed §167.826.3 at 44.

[29] As a result, students who attend accredited schools within unaccredited districts have the right to transfer. In addition, disconnecting transfer rights from actual attendance at an unaccredited school encourages what Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal has called “educational larceny” – an act where (1) parents take transfer rights by moving into the geographical boundaries of the district for the sole purpose of taking advantage of the transfer law or (2) parents with children who were already in private schools take advantage of the transfer law to send them to a neighboring accredited public school district.

[30] Proposed §167.826.1 at 43.

[31] Proposed §167.826.2 at 44.

[32] Proposed §167.827.3 at 46.

[33] Proposed §167.827.4 at 46-47.

[34] Proposed §167.827.4 at 46-47.

[35] Proposed §167.826.9 at 46.

[36] Proposed §167.848(5) at 56.

[37] Proposed §167.828.2 at 47.