Education Policy in St. Louis: Survival of the Fittest

BY JANICE CANTIERI

Wellston

In September 2012, the Missouri State Board of Education voted to strip the Normandy School District of its accreditation. The district, located in North St. Louis, failed to meet the state’s standards, as test scores were well below the statewide passing scores. This has happened in the past as well with similar districts: Riverview Gardens School District became unaccredited in 2007; in 2010, the Wellston School District, just south of Normandy, was also stripped of its accreditation, and students from this district entered Normandy. These districts are in neighborhoods with a majority of African American families and high percentages of students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches. Instead of providing services to help these districts improve, the state decided that transferring students to accredited districts was the easiest solution. This decision, however, has divided communities and created extra stress on both receiving and transferring districts. In the case of education in St. Louis, the state is failing the people. The state can improve the schools in distressed districts by providing additional resources and support, rather than directing additional state funding to already successful, accredited districts.

Students who attend an unaccredited school in Missouri are eligible to transfer to another, accredited school district, but the school transfer law, under Missouri Statute 167-131, requires that the sending district pay tuition costs and provide transportation to at least one school district. This forces unaccredited districts to use large portions of their resources to fund transportation and tuition for transfers, instead of improving and revamping the curricula and staff to become reaccredited. Unaccredited districts are forced to scramble to provide for the students who choose to remain in their schools. Additionally, many communities are divided, as children must travel over 20 miles to get a quality education, or stay and receive a less-than-ideal education in a distressed district.

In Normandy, up to 30 percent of the district’s resources were covering the costs of tuition for transfer students and transportation to Francis Howell in the neighboring St. Charles County. On October 24th the school district refused to pay the tuition for transfers, which were costing the district up to $1 million per month, but the district will continue to pay transportation costs. Normandy still has a large number of students in attendance, with fewer resources to provide for these students. If Normandy misses payments for more than two months, the state will direct resources to the receiving schools rather than providing aid to Normandy.

According to the Missouri Department of Education’s 2013 reports, the Normandy school district was valued at $255,704,350, with 91.7% of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Francis Howell, meanwhile, is valued at $2,296,436,489, with only 18.6% of students on the free or reduced-price lunch program. The tax-base in St. Charles County has a wealth of resources that provide more opportunities for improving educational programs and school districts in this region, but this leaves districts like Normandy behind.

Transfer students come with a price tag, however, there is no reason for the failing district to pick up the tab. Normandy already faces Schoolsevere budget cuts, teacher layoffs, and increased classroom sizes. The receiving districts have the ability to cap classroom ratios, so that no additional teachers are buildings are required. Essentially, this means that transfer students are filling empty spaces in classrooms, not placing an overwhelming burden on receiving districts.

Instead of forcing unaccredited districts to pay for transfer students, the state should implement a comprehensive program to get Normandy and the other unaccredited districts up to speed. This would require—at a bare minimum—teacher trainings, new curricula, and increased funding to provide tutoring and after-school programs for students. Public education is a right, and those who are underprivileged should not be forced to go to great lengths to get their children a decent education. The cycle of defunding and disaccrediting districts will lead to fewer graduates and even lower test scores for disadvantaged areas in the future. The state has failed to provide education to all of its citizens, and a quality education has become a privilege for some, not a right for all.

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Janice Cantieri is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at jcantieri@wustl.edu

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