Picture of Missouri capitol

Open enrollment for Missouri schools — allowing students to transfer out of their home school district — is being given another try in the Missouri legislature.

Bennie Cook photo

An 82-67 vote in the House on Tuesday gave initial approval to HB 253 despite 24 Republicans voting against. Rep. Bennie Cook, R-Houston, voted no. The Houston board of education earlier went on record opposing the measure. School boards statewide have signed resolutions opposing the bill.

The bill was amended during debate to place a permanent cap of 3% on student transfer volume and to prohibit considerations of race in transfer acceptances.

Rep. Raychel Proudie, D-Ferguson, underscored the stance of opponents, citing whether “the picking of winners and losers” will come to pass if open enrollment should become law.

Democratic lawmakers speaking in opposition focused on the needs of special education students, under-served and underprivileged students and those school districts from which students might depart.

Republicans in support of the bill spoke of the power of competition to improve outcomes, the durability and attractiveness of small schools, and the need for a new approach as more valuable than risk.

Rep. Jeff Knight, R-Lebanon, had an almost exasperated tone late in discussion, stating, “if you (a school) have more than 3% of students that want to leave every year, fix that problem.”

HB 253 allocates $80 million to fund additional transportation for cross-district students broadly and to assist with the further accommodation of transferred special education students.

House Democrats, however, were not convinced this is enough to guarantee the equal treatment of students. Several members from both sides of the aisle questioned the real power of $80 million.

Rep. Gary Bonacker, R-House Springs, described the $80 million as “a waste of money,” especially when considering “programs for special needs kids that are upwards of $50,000 to $100,000 for a single special needs student.”

Democrats predicted a slew of consequences should the status quo be upended by open transfers, such as disparities in educational quality, the destabilization of communities due to school declines, and the unequal treatment of students due to selective transfer acceptances.

Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis, said, “If we want to help our schools, let’s properly fund them.”

“Our communities deserve, and our children deserve quality education” and “we deserve to be given that by any means necessary,” she said.

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