In a tight vote last week, members of the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow public school students to transfer their enrollment to any other public school, regardless …
In a tight vote last week, members of the Missouri House of Representatives passed a bill that would allow public school students to transfer their enrollment to any other public school, regardless of geographic location.
Described as an “open enrollment” policy (not to be confused with the health insurance term), the law is intended to provide families with access to more choice in educational programs. State and federal education funding would follow the student to the new district, while local tax dollars would remain with the student’s home district.
The bill divided state representatives, many of whom worry over the proposal’s impact on smaller and less well-funded school districts that are already disadvantaged. The open enrollment proposal was passed by the House of Representatives with an 85-69 vote, one of a the smallest margins a bill can get and still pass.
However, supporters argued that the bill includes safeguards to limit negative impacts on schools, while providing parents with an option that they’ve been asking for.
Among those supporters is Warren County Representative Jeff Myers, who told The Record that he wants students to have access to academic programs that their home districts might not offer. He also said parents who live in one community, but work in another, might find it more convenient to have their children enrolled in the community where they work.
“It’s been an option that a lot of parents have sought for various reasons,” Myers commented.
He said the safeguards present in the bill made him comfortable voting for it. That includes a 3% cap on the number of students who are allowed to exit a district in any year, as well as a rule that allows school districts to opt out of receiving outside students, which protects them from being overwhelmed.
Most importantly, Myers said, this bill keeps all public money in public schools. It doesn’t provide any accommodation for parents who want to send their children to private schools.
“Public money is staying in the public school system. ... But it gives an element of competition through choice that allows school districts to assess where they’re at and adapt to changes that need to be made,” Myers said. “That’s opposed to the current system, where you just have what you have.”
Myers noted that lawmakers were provided with an example from Springfield, Mo., where an open enrollment agreement among schools was the impetus for one of the worst-performing schools to become one of the best.
“They had a lot of students leave. Then they implemented changes and got things turned around, and now that’s the school that has the highest amount of applications to get back into,” Myers explained.
Other existing rules related to students transferring between schools, particularly those established by the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA), would remain in place.
The open enrollment bill, HB 253, now goes to the Missouri Senate, where it will have to clear a number of procedural and legislative hurdles before becoming law.
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