Legislative bill would allow for open enrollment in Missouri schools, allowing students to transfer outside of district

The Missouri Legislature is considering a policy that would allow students to transfer to a public school outside their district.
Published: Feb. 13, 2023 at 10:13 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - The Missouri Legislature is considering a policy that would allow students to transfer to a public school outside their district.

If passed, schools would not have to accept transfers but could do nothing to stop students from leaving.

Supporters said they want to give as many students in Missouri as possible a chance to find the education that best suits them and believe the competition would make all schools better.

But not all agree with that idea.

“It’s not competition if the rules aren’t fair and the playing field is not level. And the rules ain’t fair, and the playing field is not level,” said St. Clair R-13 Superintendent Dr. Kyle Kruse.

Dr. Kruse calls his district a ‘have not’ district. He said it’s tough to fund new buildings, even pay teachers, and they rely a lot on state funding.

He said he’s done the math, and if open enrollment happens, his district could lose 100 students and about $400,000 in state funding.

“We’re looking at a situation where there would have to be some measure of cut in various ways throughout the district and make it even harder for us to stay competitive with teacher salaries,” said Kruse.

Right now, there are two bills moving through the Missouri legislature, both very similar and, if passed, could go into effect next year.

“We know it is a successful program,” said Cici Tomkins, Director of Outreach for Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri’ and said parents may pull their kids for a variety of reasons.

“Sometimes students are just experiencing bullying in a district or just want some different, like say they want to learn Mandarin Chinese and the school district doesn’t offer that, and they just want a different program, a different environment,” said Tomkins.

In the Rockwood district, one of the area’s largest and growing districts, parents have opinions.

“The more kids that we can help, I mean, the better,” said Jen Naslund.

Naslund loves Rockwood and wishes more kids in St. Louis had the opportunities that her kids have.

“Why not help kids, they’re our future,” said Naslund.

Others were a little more skeptical of the bill.

“If you get more kids than you got to worry about overcrowding,” said Julie Gregory.

The bills allow districts to decide how many students can transfer and does not require certain staffing or building mandates. In the first several years, it also limits how many students any school can bring in, limiting it to 5% initially.

Still, Dr. Kruse worries about losing students.

“Let’s compete but let’s do it with rules that are fair,” said Kruse.

St. Louis Public Schools appears to be exempt from the bill due to a desegregation settlement.

Multiple school district school boards in St. Louis have passed resolutions opposing the bill.

The Senate bill allows for students to transfer to charter schools as well, the House bill does not.