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Accounted For is a series that looks at the impact of chronic absenteeism — defined as missing 10 percent or more of a school year for any reason — on learning.

Editor's Weekly: Keeping An Eye On Student Transfers

Missouri House Chamber
File photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI
The chambers of the Missouri House of Representatives at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City.

The Missouri legislative session’s finale played out this week with members in their usual swivet of last-minute activity and suspense. Watching the action in the closing days is like watching the cap dance at a Cardinals’ game — blink and you lose track of what’s going on.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Marshall Griffin, Jo Mannies and Jason Rosenbaum kept a sharp eye on developments, even when that required Marshall to stay awake all night — twice — to cover the student transfer bill.

When the dust cleared Thursday, the bill contained a surprise provision — one that would eliminate free transportation for students who transfer out of failing districts. Their families, rather than the sending districts, would be on the hook for the transportation cost.

The provision would address concerns of failing districts, which don’t want to use their scarce funds to send students elsewhere. And it would remove some of the burden on receiving districts by reducing the number of requests to take in students. But the provision might not look so good to families in failing districts. Their easiest option for gaining immediate access to better schools would now cost more.

The bill also included a “private option” that would allow some students — and some public funds — to transfer from failing schools to private schools within the same districts. Both Democrats and Republicans urged Gov. Jay Nixon to sign the bill, which he has threatened to veto because of the private option. The issue is sensitive, to say the least. It's raising questions about race, as Dale Singer reported as part of his ongoing and comprehensive coverage of the issue. And it's touching the interests of such powerful political forces as teachers organizations and mega-donor Rex Sinquefield.

There’s no bigger issue for the St. Louis region than school quality and inequality. For months, our politics and education reporters have been covering the story — not just what the legislature might do, but also what’s happening with the state board of education, local districts, parents, students, teachers and so on. Looking beyond policy to root problems, Tim Lloyd’s Accounted For special project has explored the simple connection between attendance and school success and the complex reasons why some students miss so much school.

Next week, St. Louis Public Radio and the Nine Network will join forces to take stock of where things stand as the school year winds down. Coverage begins with a special program on Channel 9 Monday at 7 p.m. It will continue with a discussion on Stay Tuned Thursday night and with coverage on St. Louis Public Radio and our website through the week.

Of course, the legislature’s action this week is only one piece of the puzzle. Next week, the state board of education will grapple with what policies to set on school accreditation in general and student transfers in particular. Soon, the Normandy Transition Committee will make recommendations for what will happen to that district and its students.

This school year began with a scramble to accommodate student transfers from Normandy and Riverview Gardens. It will end with different options in place for students in troubled schools. But the challenge of providing a great education for all the region’s students will continue, and so will our coverage, as the region comes to grips with this most pressing issue.

Margaret Wolf Freivogel is the editor of St. Louis Public Radio. She was the founding editor of the St. Louis Beacon, a nonprofit news organization, from 2008 to 2013. A St. Louis native, Margie previously worked for 34 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as a reporter, Washington correspondent and assistant managing editor. She has received numerous awards for reporting as well as a lifetime achievement award from the St. Louis Press Club and the Missouri Medal of Honor from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. She is a past board member of the Investigative News Network and a past president of Journalism and Women Symposium. Margie graduated from Kirkwood High School and Stanford University. She is married to William H. Freivogel. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. Margie enjoys rowing and is a fan of chamber music.