Lawmakers consider override on school transfers veto
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Lawmakers consider override on school transfers veto

Date: September 5, 2014
By: Meghan Boggess
State Capitol Bureau
Links: CCS SB 493, the governor's veto letter, the list of vetoed bills, the Senate rollcall and the House rollcall.

JEFFERSON CITY - The thorny and complicated problem of student transfers from unaccredited school districts will be back before the Missouri Senate when the legislature's veto session convenes Wednesday, Sept. 10.

On Friday,  just days before the session., the transfer bill's sponsor said he tentatively has decided to make an override motion.

However, Sen. David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, said a final decision would depend on a Senate GOP caucus scheduled just an hour before the veto session is to begin.

The bill was designed to ease the financial pressures on unaccredited schools that have to pay the costs of students who chose to transfer to accredited districts.

It also has provisions to improve education quality in unaccredited districts.

Gov. Jay Nixon, however, cited a provision allowing use of an unaccredited district's funds to help pay the costs of private school tuition, although under very limited circumstances.

"Unlike the accountability to taxpayers that locally elected school boards provide, this scheme for directing public funds to private schools would come with no such protection," Nixon wrote in his veto letter.

While the bill cleared the Senate with an overwhelming vote, one of the major supporters -- Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis City -- said she did not think lawmakers would have the energy to push for an override.

"I don't think many of my colleagues have the stomach for it," Nasheed said. "It seemed like the wind was knocked out of them when the governor decided to veto."

Nasheed said it's likely that school transfers would be brought up again in the next regular session.

Some of need legislators had cited for swift action on a transfer bill was eased when the state Education Department took control of the Normandy School District in St. Louis County.

So many students had transferred out of the district that it threatened to bankrupt the school district. The legislature had to approve an emergency appropriation earlier this year to keep the district afloat.

Those financial problems, however, were resolved when the department simply eliminated the right of students to transfer from the district.

Although the transfer biill cleared the Senate with more votes than necessary for an override, it fell 20 votes short of the two-thirds majority in the House.

In 2013 the Missouri State Supreme Court upheld a 1993 law allowing students to transfer from unaccredited to accredited schools with the unaccredited districts footing the bill. The ruling meant thousands of students in the currently unaccredited Riverview Gardens District in St. Louis County and the Kansas City District have the right to transfer into neighboring schools.

Missouri's current voucher program is unique in that it requires the failing school to pay for transfer students, rather than the state, said Josh Cunningham, an education policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, in an email.

In total, 13 states and the District of Columbia use state-funded school vouchers. Of these, four states pay for students to transfer to private schools.

"Private schools do not have to answer to voters, their leadership does not have to stand for election or re-election, and their budgets are not transparent to allow public scrutiny," Nixon said in a statement. "Public funds should not be diverted to private schools."

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