MSNBC — Hundreds of mostly poor minority students who used a controversial Missouri law to transfer out of failing schools will be sent back to their home districts next school year, following a tense battle in the legislature and a slew of politically charged decisions by the department of education.
The reversal puts the academic fate of some of the state’s most needy and disadvantaged students at risk.
Last summer, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld an earlier ruling that allowed students from unaccredited school districts to transfer to better schools. Thousands of students from the African-American suburbs of St. Louis streamed across the border to much wealthier, white districts and better-performing schools closer to home. But the exodus triggered a number of unexpected consequences. The failing districts were financially responsible for paying all transfer-related expenses, including tuition and transportation costs.
As a result, the transfers nearly crippled one school district in particular, the Normandy schools, which has paid about $10.4 million to a dozen different school districts. The costs for the Normandy district, which is about 97% black and whose student body is deeply impoverished, forced the legislature to appropriate supplemental funding to keep it afloat.
Attempts by the legislature to tweak the law to alleviate some of the burdens placed on schools by the transfer law were stymied when Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, threatened to veto a proposed bill. The legislature’s intransigence forced the issue back to the state board of education.
The board recently voted to replace the Normandy School District with a new district, the Normandy Schools Collaborative, effective July 1. The new district includes the same boundaries and schools as the old district, but by changing its name, the district is now no longer unaccredited and therefore eligible under the transfer law.
The decision to rebrand the district has offered a legal loophole to the districts that had reluctantly and begrudgingly accepted the minority transfers in the first place.
Last Friday, school leaders at the well-off Francis Howell district announced that they would no longer accept incoming transfer students and that about 400 students who had previously transferred to the district this school year would no longer be welcomed.
“FHSD has consistently held the belief that transferring students from an unaccredited school district is not the solution to improving struggling schools and that the funds spent on tuition and transportation for transfer students can be more effectively spent on educating the whole Normandy student population,” read a statement released by the Francis Howell School District.
“Children have a right and a need to have quality schools in their neighborhood.”
The financially strapped and academically struggling Normandy School District paid Francis Howell more than $4 million in tuition costs and nearly a million in transportation costs.
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