Judge rejects Missouri school transfer law

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

ST. LOUIS -- A Missouri trial judge ruled Tuesday that a state law allowing students to transfer from unaccredited districts to nearby schools cannot be enforced because it violates a part of the state constitution that prohibits unfunded mandates.

A Missouri school transfer law enacted in 1993 allows those living in unaccredited districts to attend classes in a close, accredited district and forces the unaccredited district to pay tuition and transportation costs.

St. Louis County Circuit Judge David Lee Vincent III said in a ruling Tuesday the law imposes a new requirement without additional funding and cannot be enforced in a case that involves transfers from unaccredited St. Louis Public Schools to the suburban Clayton School District in St. Louis County.

In addition, Vincent concluded that it would be impossible for school districts to comply with the state transfer law because of budget consequences. Vincent wrote that following the education law "is impossible and held to be of nor force and effect," and excused the St. Louis and Clayton districts from following the mandate.

Several families from St. Louis have sought to send their children to schools in Clayton while requesting the tuition bills be sent to the St. Louis district, which lost state accreditation in 2007. Other lawsuits also have been filed over the school transfer law.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported the state attorney general's office plans to appeal. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said the case involves one of the most significant education questions facing the state.

Attorney Elkin Kistner, a lawyer for the losing side, expressed displeasure with the ruling.

"I'm disappointed, and I disagree with it," Kistner said.

Two other Missouri school districts also are unaccredited and could be affected by the school transfer law -- Kansas City and Riverview Gardens in St. Louis County.

Missouri officials have confronted concerns with the school transfer law for years. Vincent first sided with the school districts in 2008, but the Missouri Supreme Court overturned the decision two years later and ordered further legal proceedings in the case. In March, Vincent held a three-day hearing.

State lawmakers also have debated various measures intended to modify the school transfer law, but reaching any agreement has proven difficult at the state Capitol.

During the March court hearing, a political science and public administration professor concluded from a survey of residents and other data that roughly 15,700 students in St. Louis could seek transfer the upcoming school districts. Of those students, more than 3,500 were expected to seek enrollment in Clayton, where officials say about 2,500 children attend classes.

St. Louis school officials estimated the total cost from student transfers out of the district could be up to $262 million. Clayton officials say they would need to construct new buildings and would need several years for planning and construction.

Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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