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St. Louis-area schools pledge to help failing districts with lower tuition, teacher training

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JEFFERSON CITY, Missouri — A group of St. Louis-area schools are banding together to help two failing districts get back on track, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday.

Under the agreement, 22 schools that now accept transfer students from the Normandy and Riverview Gardens schools pledged to provide support to help those two districts regain accreditation. That could include anything from reducing tuition to providing teacher training.

"When districts begin talking like this, we're acknowledging that all of the children in the region are all of our responsibility," Normandy Superintendent Charles Pearson said. "That's a really important shift in thinking."

Nixon also released $2.5 million for intensive reading instruction at Kansas City and St. Louis-area schools, including $500,000 each for both Riverview Gardens and Normandy. The money had been included in the budget approved by legislators for the fiscal year ending June 30, but Nixon had previously blocked it while citing concerns about state revenues.

Both moves come as Nixon is considering legislation also aimed at helping students in struggling schools by revamping Missouri's student transfer law, which requires unaccredited districts to pay tuition for their students who wish to transfer to other nearby schools. Officials from Riverview Gardens and Normandy have said the student-transfer law has created financial hardships for them.

The legislation would require districts to be accredited by building. The idea is that, even in failing districts, some school buildings likely perform well. Students in unaccredited districts would first transfer to better ones in their home district before switching to another district, with the goal of stemming the flow of tuition dollars elsewhere.

The bill received mixed support in the Legislature after some lawmakers raised concerns that it didn't adequately address issues stemming from the student transfer law. Pearson expressed similar concerns Tuesday.

House Democrats went so far as to ask Nixon, who hasn't publicly backed the legislation, to veto the bill and call a special session to force lawmakers to reconsider ways to help the districts.

Riverview Gardens spokeswoman Melanie Powell-Robinson said after the announcement that the legislation, which does not cap what districts can charge for tuition, could "derail some of the progress" the district has made "because financially, it's just not sustainable."

Also at issue are provisions in the legislation that would expand some students' access to charter and virtual schools. Supporters say that will give students more options for a better education, while critics say it caters to special interests.

Nixon has until mid-July to either sign or veto the legislation. It will become law if he does not act.

Tuesday's agreement announced by Nixon seeks to addresses concerns about the costs of student transfers and provides some support for the two unaccredited districts. But unlike the student-transfer bill, it has buy-in from local school officials.


Student transfers bill is HB 42.

Online:

House: http://www.house.mo.gov


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