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Missouri legislature sends student transfer bill to Nixon

via Flickr | frankjuarez

For the second year in a row, Missouri lawmakers have sent a proposed fix to the state's student transfer law to Gov. Jay Nixon.

This year's bill, HB 42, would require accreditation of individual school buildings, as opposed to entire school districts, meaning that students in failing schools would first have to transfer to a non-failing school within their home district. If all slots are filled, though, they could then transfer to a school in another district, but that provision would only apply to kids in urban and metro areas.

The measure does not cap the amount of tuition failing schools would have to pay to allow students to transfer, but it would provide academic incentives for receiving districts that charge less for tuition.

It would also allow students to transfer to charter and virtual schools.

In addition, current law that confines charter schools to St. Louis and Kansas City would be changed to allow them in neighboring portions of St. Louis County and Jackson County. Democrat Genise Montecillo of south St. Louis County blasted those provisions on the House floor, along with what she described as undue influence by lobbyists on the bill's contents.

"Normandy is happening because of these lobbyists' efforts and this agenda that continues to get pushed," Montecillo nearly shouted. "We have a perfectly fine charter (school) bill; we could have put the charter expansion there. We could have had an intervention bill (for Normandy) … but no! We're going to load this (bill) up (to where) is so difficult for anybody to really understand what is in this bill."

Meanwhile, several Kansas City-area senators from both political parties criticized the expansion of charter schools and pledged to vote "no" as a result.

"You have ideology over substance," said state Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.  "The 'reformers' seized upon this opportunity and leveraged those children in Normandy and Riverview (Gardens) to expand an ideology into an area that does not want it."

Fellow state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, took issue with Holsman over his opposition to the transfer bill because of the charter school language.

"This is not just about your one little bitty narrow district," Nasheed said to Holsman. "We're talking about schools throughout the state of Missouri where poor black kids are in those districts. We're going to have the opportunity to save Normandy, and you're saying 'to hell with Normandy because I don't want charter (schools)!'"

Nasheed was gaveled by the presiding officer for saying "hell" on the Senate floor.

Holsman then fired back, "I've said multiple times that I do care about Riverview (Gardens) and Normandy, but that doesn't mean that my district doesn't deserve its representation on this floor to say 'we don't want that reform.'"

Nasheed said that Holsman's school district won't be negatively impacted because it's defined as a "hold-harmless" district. She then accused him of "dancing to the tune of the teachers' unions," took off her microphone, and walked out of the Senate chamber.

Toward the end of Tuesday night's debate, Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, went even further and equated opposition to the student transfer bill to institutional racism.

Finally, after about 3-1/2 hours of often-heated debate, state Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said HB 42 was not a perfect bill, but that it's a good bill that would help Missouri students.

"I think everyone in this body wants the same thing, and that is the best opportunity for all of our students and all of our children in the state of Missouri," Pearce said.  "We have some districts that are hurting, and we have some districts that need our help, and no longer can we turn our backs on these students and just say 'that's too bad.'"

The Senate passed the student transfer bill 23-11, which is just enough to override a veto if Nixon decides not to approve it. The House vote was closer, 84-73, woefully short of the 2/3rds majority needed for an override.

There's no word yet on whether Nixon supports the final product passed Tuesday by lawmakers.  He vetoed last year's version because it would have allowed public money to be used by private, non-sectarian schools.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.