JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — Two proposals aimed at addressing concerns with Missouri's student transfer law gained initial approval from the state House and Senate on Tuesday, a major step toward enacting a solution that could relieve some of the financial hardships struggling districts now face.
The current transfer law allows students in failing districts to switch schools at the expense of their home district, which has meant financial hardships for some schools when students flock elsewhere.
At the heart of the proposals is a measure that would allow students to instead move to better-performing buildings within their district, which might rank well by comparison.
Lawmakers say that would keep money within a school district, prevent costly expenses for busing students to classes and keep students close to home.
If there's no space for students to transfer to buildings within their home district, or there are no accredited schools in the district, the House and Senate bills give students expanded options to transfer to charter and virtual schools.
Rep. Mike Lair, a Chillicothe Republican, called the House version a "groundbreaking" piece of legislation. That measure passed 112-44 among representatives.
"For decades, we have dealt with student transfer," Lair said.
He said the legislation addresses the current law "so the sending school is not bankrupt from the tuition and the receiving district is not overwhelmed."
The measures are the result of months of discussions with Gov. Jay Nixon, who last year cited concerns with an option for students to transfer to private, nonreligious schools when he vetoed that legislation.
But lawmakers said they're hopeful things will be different this year.
Both bills now face a second vote before they can switch chambers, where lawmakers will "start all over," said Sen. David Pearce, a Warrensburg Republican who sponsored the Senate version, which passed by a voice vote.
Then the House and Senate will have to reconcile the two student transfer measures, which take different approaches to school accountability and a contested measure that would push traditional public schools to sell unused buildings.
Some senators and representatives raised concerns about the flurry of amendments added to each bill, which could threaten the proposals' chances for approval with Nixon.
Still, Pearce and other lawmakers said hours of negotiations this year could finally mean success for the legislation.
"We can't lose another generation," Pearce said. "It's all of our problem."
Education bills are SB 1, HB 42.
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