Missouri School District Transfer Law: Judge Rules Policy Unconstitutional

A judge ruled last week that a Missouri law that would have allowed students to transfer out of failing school districts to neighboring counties was unconstitutional, Education News reports.

Jackson County Judge Brent Powell wrote that the transfer law violates the Hancock Amendment, a clause in the state constitution that prohibits the legislature from forcing unfunded mandates onto local governments.

According to the Associated Press, the law requires that unaccredited districts -- in this case, Kansas City Public Schools -- pay the tuition and all associated transportation costs of any local student attending an accredited, out-of-district school. Missouri education officials revoked the accreditation of KCPS effective Jan. 1 of this year after the district failed for years to meet state performance standards.

However, districts bordering Kansas City Public Schools claim the money would not be enough to cover the costs of them adhering to the law. Of the five surrounding districts suing to have the law declared invalid, Powell sided with three of them -- Independence, North Kansas City and Lee’s Summit -- ruling that forcing these districts to accept KCPS students would violate the Hancock Amendment, Education News reports.

The judge found that the amount of money collected for educating transfer students would fall short of the cost of educating those students by $5.2 million in Lee’s Summit, $2.9 million in North Kansas City and $1.7 million in Independence.

“The Independence School District strongly believes that each child in our metropolitan area deserves a quality education, but that the education of students outside of our district cannot be our taxpayers' burden," Independence Superintendent Jim Hinson said in a statement. "For that reason, we are pleased with the Judge's decision."

Powell also determined the Blue Springs and Raytown districts would collect sufficient funds from the Kansas City district to educate the transfer students. According to the AP, representatives of the district said transfers could be requested to Blue Springs and Raytown, but “even this portion of the ruling is likely to be challenged.”

KCTV reports that an estimated 2,400 students wanted to transfer to Blue Springs or Raytown, while 5,000 were believed to have wanted to go to Independence, Lee's Summit or North Kansas City.

"The judge's ruling today protects the educational resources of more than 16,000 students and avoids a tragedy," said KCPS Superintendent R. Stephen Green in the district's written statement. "Our students have a right to high-quality resources, and this ruling prevents these resources from leaving KCPS, its students, and its teachers."

The ruling echoes one from earlier this year, when a St. Louis County Circuit Court judge declared the state’s transfer law, as written, is unconstitutional and unenforceable.