Missouri Court Declares School Transfer Law Unconstitutional

in NEWS FROM THE ACCESS NETWORK

A Jackson County judge invalidated this month a Missouri statute that requires failing school districts pay tuition and all associated transportation costs for students to transfer to out-of-district schools. Judge Brent Powell held that the transfer law violated a provision of the Missouri constitution known as the Hancock Amendment, which forbids the state from forcing local governments to shoulder the costs of unfunded mandates. The state transfer law has provoked a number of similar lawsuits, including one decided in May by a St. Louis County Court that declared the transfer law “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”

Kansas City Public Schools lost accreditation this past January after persistently failing to meet state performance standards. In Blue Springs R-IV School District v. School District of Kansas City, the five surrounding districts argued that the money Kansas City would provide for transfers would not be enough to cover the costs of educating the new students.

On August 16, 2012, the court agreed with the plaintiffs in part, finding that for three of the districts, the amount paid by Kansas City would fall short of what was necessary: Lee’s Summit would be short by $5.2 million, North Kansas City by $2.9 million, and Independence by $1.7 million. A Kansas City School Superintendent praised the ruling for protecting the educational resources of more than 16,000 students: “Our students have a right to high-quality resources, and this ruling prevents these resources from leaving KCPS, its students, and its teachers.” The court did find that the amount the other two districts, Blue Springs and Raytown, would collect for the transfer students was sufficient, but Kansas City district officials said this portion of the ruling is “likely to be challenged.”

In its written opinion, the court acknowledged that its decision could lead to future legal controversy because “at some unknown breaking point,” Kansas City Public Schools could find they are unable to pay receiving school districts for the student transferring and still meet their other financial obligations. If the district reaches this point, “a Hancock Amendment violation will likely exist for each and every school district that enrolls students residing in KCPS,” according to Judge Powell.

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