by Alex Stuckley / St. Louis Post Dispatch
JEFFERSON CITY • One outspoken Missouri senator believes recent actions by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education are legally meaningless.
Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, released a statement today pointing to numerous problems she has found in DESE’s recent actions regarding the school transfer law, passed in 1993 to offer children in unaccredited districts to transfer to better schools, with their home districts paying tuition and transportation costs.
After the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the law last summer, about 2,000 children the unaccredited Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts transferred to higher performing schools this past year. That decision nearly threw Normandy into bankruptcy, requiring the Legislature to appropriate additional money in the supplement to the fiscal year 2014 budget to get Normandy through the school year.
The Legislature’s attempt to fix the transfer law — a priority throughout the session — was stalled after Gov. Jay Nixon threatened a veto, throwing the issue back to the Missouri Board of Education.
In May, the board voted to replace the Normandy district with a different one to avoid dissolving it entirely and assigning 4,000 children to other schools.
Now, the state board is poised to oversee the operations of a school district for the first time. The Normandy Schools Collaborative will have an appointed board and a longer school year. It will carry a nonaccredited status, effectively removing it from under the school transfer law.
Board members then decided to prohibit new student transfers from the district and put a cap on what the Normandy Collaborative would pay the 20 districts that enrolled Normandy transfer students.
Chappelle-Nadal says the board cannot do this because statute says students can transfer if they aren’t provided an accredited school.
Additionally, they deny 131 transfer students the right to remain in their new schools because they hadn’t attended Normandy during the 2012-13 school year.
Chappelle-Nadal believes these students cannot be exclude from transferring because statute says nothing about this.
Also, by eliminating Normandy’s accreditation status, the department effectively made it impossible for students to benefit from extra help — such as tutoring — specifically appropriated to unaccredited or provisionally accredited school districts in the department’s fiscal year 2015 budget, she said. The budget still awaits action from Gov. Jay Nixon.
Chappelle-Nadal said she will request an Attorney General opinion and request an inquiry by the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.
Alex Stuckey covers Missouri politics and state government for the Post-Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter at @alexdstuckey.