Could Kansas City Benefit From Student Transfers?
On Dec. 10, the Missouri Supreme Court once again upheld the law that allows students to transfer from failing schools. This is the third time the state’s Supreme Court has upheld the law. The court had previously decided the same in a case based out of Saint Louis. That decision led to the events of this fall, where nearly a quarter of students — 2,500 —transferred from the Normandy and Riverview Gardens School Districts. The most recent case was brought by several school districts in the Kansas City area and was holding up the transfer of students from Kansas City Public Schools. In many ways, the cases and the rulings were quite similar, but the impact of the law may be quite different in Kansas City.
As I have noted previously, Riverview Gardens is among the lowest-spending districts in the Saint Louis area and Normandy is about average. Kansas City, on the other hand, spends considerably more than most of the other school districts in the area (see below). Kansas City spends nearly $13,000 per pupil. Save for the Center School District, this is more than $1,400 above what Grandview and other neighboring districts spend. The neighboring Independence School District spends $3,800 less. This means that when students leave the Kansas City School District, in most cases, it will generate a cost savings.
Let’s assume that a quarter of Kansas City’s 15,500 students apply to transfer. If those students are spread out evenly among the 11 other districts above, the district would have to pay about $39 million in tuition. This may seem like a lot, but the district is currently spending more than $50 million on that quarter of students. If the district could make appropriate budgetary cuts, it could actually come out ahead. More importantly, the students will come out ahead because they now have the option to attend higher-performing schools.