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Missouri House again considers open enrollment bill for public schools

An empty first grade classroom at Nance Elementary School in the North Pointe neighborhood of St. Louis.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri lawmakers are again considering legislation that would allow public school students to transfer into a new school district if that school decided to participate in the program. Members of the Missouri House passed a bill last year on open enrollment, but it failed to pass the Senate.

Legislation creating open enrollment for Missouri’s public schools is already in motion for the 2024 legislative session.

Members of the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill to establish open enrollment.

Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, chair of the committee and sponsor of the bill, said open enrollment is a step in the right direction for education reform.

“The question is: Should your address be the main determination on what public school you attend?” Pollitt said. “And of course I don't believe that should be the case. I think it should be focused on educational opportunities and the family.”

Through the legislation, students would be able to transfer into a new school district that is participating in the program. School districts would have the power to decide if they wanted to accept nonresident students.

Each public school district must annually set the number of students the district would be willing to receive the following school year. Districts can also decide to not take any students.

While school districts would not be able to stop students from leaving, they would be able to restrict the number of outgoing students to 3% of the previous school year’s enrollment.

Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood, questioned Pollitt over school districts possibly changing their mind about participating in open enrollment.

“Let's say a district says, ‘Absolutely, we want to participate.’ They get kiddos. They're in it for two years. And they go: ‘This is really not working for us. Didn't work out how we thought.’ Can they get out of the plan?” Brown asked.

Pollitt said the districts can stop accepting new students, but they cannot send the students back whom they already accepted.

Rep. Ed Lewis, R-Moberly, thanked Pollitt for bringing the bill forward.

“I think that if we don't institute open enrollment of some form, and I think yours is the best product that we have at this point, in two years there will be fewer public school students than there would be if we didn't institute open enrollment,” Lewis said.

Lawmakers met for roughly an hour and a half Wednesday to hear testimony on the bill, with supporters and those opposed both making statements.

Matt Michelson with the Missouri State Teachers Association spoke against the legislation.

“Our members are deeply concerned about the prospects of consolidation that could happen under this bill, also increasing student mobility and the detrimental effects of student mobility,” Michelson said.

This is not the first time the House has discussed open enrollment. Pollitt has handled legislation establishing open enrollment for several years.

Last session, it passed the House 85-69 with all but one of the yes votes coming from Republicans. It made it through a Senate committee but did not go any further.

Republican leaders have said they want to pass something this session regarding school choice, which could include open enrollment.

Sarah Kellogg is a Missouri Statehouse and Politics Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio and other public radio stations across the state.