JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday vetoed a bill aimed at revamping Missouri's student transfer law, saying it "veered of track" with some of its provisions and failed to cap tuition districts can charge other districts to educate students who transfer from failing schools.
The bill was lauded by some as a way to help students in Missouri's struggling schools and slammed by others as failing to address financial issues failing districts face as scores of pupils flee elsewhere.
Missouri's student transfer law requires failing schools to pay tuition for students who switch to better-performing ones nearby. That's created financial hardships for some systems working to regain state accreditation.
The legislation proposed accrediting individual buildings, not just entire districts. The idea was that some schools likely perform well, even if their district as a whole does not. Students in unaccredited buildings, under the measure, would have been able to switch to accredited ones in their home district, with the goal of keeping students and tuition dollars close to home.
But the bill also included contested provisions that would expand some students' access to charter and virtual schools.
The Democratic governor said the online schools provision included no oversight or public accountability for student performance at those schools.
"As the legislative process unfolded, this bill veered off track," Nixon said in a statement. "By the time it got to my desk, it mandated expensive voucher schemes, neglected accountability, and skirted the major, underlying difficulties in the transfer law, while creating a host of potential new problems for districts across the state."
The veto follows an agreement announced days before between St. Louis-area schools and the Normandy and Riverview Gardens systems, both of which are unaccredited.
A group of 22 nearby districts pledged to help the schools get back on track through support that includes teacher training and lowering the cost of tuition for transfer students. The partnership could address some of the concerns with the current transfer system, and unlike the proposed legislation, had the backing of local schools.
A flood of school administrators and public education advocates praised Nixon's veto of the legislation. But some lawmakers are frustrated with Nixon, who vetoed another attempt to revamp the transfer program last year.
Lawmakers noted Nixon this year voiced support for including virtual school options.
"We have tried to work with the governor and his staff," Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said in a statement. "We worked in good faith for the future of children in this state."
While Senate Republican Majority Floor Leader Ron Richard said he wants to come up with another plan for the transfer system and will talk with House leadership about potentially overriding the veto in the September special session, the legislative appetite for reviving debate on the issue is unclear.
And although the bill passed with the needed two-thirds majority to overturn a veto in the Senate, it fell well short in the House.
Student transfers bill is HB 42.
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