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Governor vetoes Senate Bill 493, impacts student transfer program

By: Sue E. Steiniger


Buses 2Governor Jay Nixon and the General Assembly appear to be on a collision course again regarding vetoes of critical bills and state budget cuts.

On Tuesday, June 24, Nixon announced that he was vetoing $144.6 million general revenue spending from the Fiscal Year 2015 budget and restricting $641.6 million in general revenue expenditures – for a total of $786.2 million.

His most recent veto, Senate Bill 493 has the state lawmaker’s disappointed and disturbed since the bill addresses the current education crisis in Missouri, including school accreditation and the challenges confronting districts in the school transfer process,which offers solutions for students who live in unaccredited school districts.

In his press release, Gov. Nixon said, “Not only does Senate Bill 493 fail to solve the school transfer problems it was intended to address; it would create new problems and exacerbate the hardships faced by children who attend unaccredited schools. Senate Bill 493 would undermine our schools, shortchange students and impose new financial hardships on families. It cannot become law.”

In his veto message, the governor said:

• SB493’s use of public funds to pay for private school tuition represents a “clear violation” of Article III, Section 38(a) of the Missouri Constitution and allows taxpayer dollars to be expended without appropriate accountability.

• SB493 would eliminate the current requirement that unaccredited districts pay for the transportation costs of transfers. He said such a policy “would be grossly unfair to the hundreds of families whose children transferred to accredited districts during the current year with the understanding that their future transportation costs would be paid by the unaccredited, sending district.”

• SB493 would allow receiving districts to discount the tuition paid for transfers in exchange for not having to consider those students’ performance data for accountability purposes for up to five years.

On June 19, the Francis Howell School District announced that it would not be accepting transfer students from the Normandy School District as it had during the 2013-1024 school year. The district had been anticipating 350 transfer students form Normandy for the new school year and was prepared to spend at least $1,465,813 on transfer student-related expenses, and anticipated $3.4 million in revenues from Normandy tuition payments. However, the takeover of the Normandy District by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) created a loophole of sorts – resulting in a new status for the district, which leaves them neither accredited nor unaccredited – and opened the door for Francis Howell to decline transfers for the 2014-2015 school year.

According to a statement issued by the governor’s office, the veto of SB493 was supported by civil rights advocates and groups representing teachers, faith leaders and schools, including the Missouri State NAACP Conference of Branches, AFT St. Louis, Lutheran Family and Children’s Services of Missouri and the Cooperating School Districts of Great Kansas City. However, on the other side, legislative leaders have their own point of view, which appears to include efforts to override the veto of this bill.

Sen. David Pearce (R-Warrensburg) sponsor of SB493 called the veto and its consequences “a huge issue that does not go away.”

“The good thing about SB493 is it gave consistency, gave predictability, and now I just see us going back into chaos and really not solving the problem,” Pearce said.

He maintained that the bill would have provided a better structure for students living in unaccredited school districts to transfer to nearby accredit districts, as well as developed a tuition calculation that was more acceptable to both sending and receiving districts.

“The implications of the veto of SB493 statewide are enormous and I intend to make every effort to override the governor’s veto,” Pearce said.

He said Senate members would support the veto override, however the challenge will be to gain full support from members of the House.”

Senate Leader Tom Dempsey (R-St. Charles) said, “In addition to vetoing a workable solution, the governor’s Department of Education and his appointed education board have gone well beyond their legal authority and have effectively blocked the opportunity for hundreds of kids to continue to transfer to better schools.”

In announcing  his most recent budget cuts and vetoes, the governor offered the General Assembly a bargaining chip in exchange for allowing his tax-cut vetoes to stand.

According to Gov. Nixon’s staff, “The governor prioritized the foundation formula and performance funding by using restrictions that, unlike line-item vetoes, can be lifted if the General Assembly sustains his vetoes of those last-minute special interest breaks.”

In regard to the bargaining chip offered by the governor, Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones said: “In this case the governor is withholding public education funding as leverage to stifle the legislature’s efforts to create jobs, reduce taxes and rein in his administration’s constant attempts to over-tax Missourians and Missouri businesses.

“The governor is engaging in his annual political game of holding our system of public education hostage.”

House Budget Chairman Rick Stream (R-St. Louis) noted that the governor was able to increase tourism funding by $4.35 million yet reduced the budget by over $220 million for DESE.

“By vetoing SB493 the governor has condemned districts to bankruptcy and closure,” Stream said.

The Senate will convene for its annual veto session on Sept. 10. At that time, a decision whether to override the governor’s veto will be made. To learn more about these bills or to track the progress, visit www.senate.mo.gov.

 

Senate Bill 493 at a glance

 Some of the highlights of SB493 included:

School Building Accreditation

The State Board of Education would have accredited individual school buildings, along with the district as a whole.

Student Transfers

Students who attended an unaccredited school and wanted to transfer would have had four possible options:

• Transfer to an accredited school building in the same district.

• Transfer to a charter school in the boundaries of the district.

– A school board of an accredited district may sponsor a

charter school located in an unaccredited district.

• Transfer to an accredited school in an accredited district in

the same or an adjoining county.

• Transfer to a private, nonsectarian school in the boundaries

of the district.

– Option only available in St. Louis City and St. Louis and

Jackson Counties.

– When 25 percent of a school’s enrollment consists of

transfer students, the school must conform to the Missouri

School Improvement Program performance standards.

Tuition can only be paid with the local property tax funds, not

state revenue.

• Any student enrolled in an unaccredited district who wanted

to transfer must district to be eligible.

• The district of residence would have paid the student’s

tuition determined by the receiving district.

– Tuition couldn’t exceed all amounts spent for teachers’

wages, incidental purposes, debt service, maintenance,

and replacements.

• Each district could have established a policy for desirable

class size and student-teacher ratios, and would not have

been required to accept any transfer students that would

violate its policy.

Regional Educational Authorities

The bill created three separate regional education authorities to coordinate student transfers from unaccredited districts to accredited districts, one for St. Louis City and County, one for Jackson County, and one for the rest of the state.

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