House Bill 42, You Can’t Please Everyone
Nearly everyone recognizes that the transfer program, which allows students to transfer from unaccredited school districts, is unsustainable. If the law is not changed, it will likely bankrupt the Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts. That is why the legislature has worked for the past two sessions to “fix” the transfer program. Last year’s attempted “fix” was vetoed by Gov. Nixon, primarily because it contained a small voucher component. This year’s bill, House Bill 42, does not contain a private school option. It does, however, expand charter schools. Immediately after the bill’s passage, education groups began urging the governor to veto the bill. Some have even gone as far as saying the bill makes matters worse.
State School Board very angry with HB42. “It is damning for schools in MO,” Peter H. pic.twitter.com/LXzOoE6qzW
— Missouri Principals (@MOASSP) May 19, 2015
So, why has fixing the transfer program become such a complicated mess? The problem is that we cannot agree on what problem needs fixing. Some want to end the transfer program altogether, some want to simply make the program sustainable, while others want to expand options for students. These three things are not all compatible, and they cannot all be accomplished. For example, Missouri’s commissioner of education wants to rein in tuition costs by instituting a cap. That would help make the program more sustainable.
HB42 does not place a tuition cap on #motransfers. @MOEducation advocated for a cap for unaccredited school districts. #MoSBOE — Missouri DESE (@MOEducation) May 19, 2015
That proposal is met with opposition from superintendents, such as David McGehee of Lee’s Summit School District. His argument is that it forces taxpayers in the receiving district to subsidize the education of the transfer students. (Never mind that the marginal cost of the additional students is extremely low, but I digress.)
Any cap simply moves the responsibility to tax payers in successful districts. Spreading wrong doesn’t = right! https://t.co/RU4IwTkYLj
— David McGehee (@DrDavidMcGehee) May 19, 2015
McGehee and many other public school officials would like the transfer program to end all together. They simply do not believe that allowing students to leave their district is the right answer. Of course, others believe that students should not be trapped in underperforming schools.
Lawmakers have had to navigate this field and try to come up with a bill that satisfies all. Once again they have failed, not for lack of effort, but because it is impossible to satisfy everyone. The question then is whether, on balance, the bill does more good than bad. Those who oppose school choice would say, “No.” Those who support choice would say, “Yes.”
For more on the transfer program, I suggest you read my latest paper, “Interdistrict Choice for Students in Failing Schools: Burden or Boon?”