How Much “Choice” Is in Senate Bill 1?
This session, the senate has worked to create a veto-proof bill that will “fix” the school transfer law. Does the 84-page document provide the educational opportunities families in unaccredited districts are hoping for?
There are a number of things the bill will do, but whether or not students will have more choice remains to be seen. Here are a few points dealing with educational options (the bill addresses many other issues):
- First and foremost, the bill does not contain the voucher portion that resulted in Gov. Jay Nixon vetoing the transfer legislation last year. In the area surrounding Normandy High School, there are 17 private high schools within five miles. Check these options off the list.
- As the word cloud above indicates, the focus of this year’s legislation is charter schools. The bill allows charter schools to expand in provisionally accredited districts. There are currently 10 provisionally accredited districts. Charter schools designated as “high quality” will have an expedited opportunity to gain charter reauthorization as well as replicate. These portions of the legislation may or may not expand choice. Thus far, zero charters exist outside of Saint Louis and Kansas City.
- The proposed legislation allows students in unaccredited school districts to cross district boundaries and attend a charter school with an APR of 70 or higher. Here are the Saint Louis City charter school options for Normandy students. There is only one existing option for Normandy High School students.
- Under the new law, students would have to live in an unaccredited district for at least one semester and apply to transfer by a March 1 deadline. The new policy would exclude students from transferring if they were homeschooled, attended a private school, or moved into the community due to a change in guardianship. Students whose parents do not understand application procedures and miss the application deadline will remain within an unaccredited school.
- The proposed legislation allows students to attend a virtual school either within a district or charter that sponsors the school or under transfer guidelines. A virtual school under the new law must meet a set of conditions. It is unclear which, if any, current virtual schools will meet those conditions.
Senate Bill 1 attempts to provide more choices for students in struggling schools. It also tries to resolve issues within the transfer program, such as who operates the transfer program and how transportation and tuition works. But this bill falls short in many ways. First, the proposed additional options in many cases do not yet exist. Until those options exist, students are limited. Second, the proposed law restricts open charter enrollment to unaccredited districts, which may deter charters from opening in places like Jennings, a provisionally accredited district with low student enrollment. Third, the transfer guidelines themselves are restrictive and arbitrary. As Senator David Pierce pointed out, one of the bill’s goals is to reduce the number of transfer students.
Judge Michael Burton ruled last week that Normandy is in fact unaccredited. He wrote, “As the transfer statute makes abundantly clear, every child deserves to be enrolled in a non-failing school district—now.” This bill may provide options for some students, but for many students, choice is still restricted. Until lawmakers see providing quality options as more of a priority than reducing transfers, we are unlikely to see a real “fix” to the transfer program.