Missouri Supreme Court considers fate of students from unaccredited districts
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Missouri Supreme Court considers fate of students from unaccredited districts

Date: February 15, 2012
By: Stephanie Ebbs
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SC92125

JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Supreme Court is facing how to deal with students in unaccredited school districts for the second time since 2007, when St. Louis public schools lost state accreditation.

The Webster Groves school district presented its appeal against the recent Supreme Court decision in the case of Turner v. the School District of Clayton. In Turner v. Clayton, the court ruled that schools were required to admit students asking to transfer out of unaccredited districts. Webster Groves' attorney said this law is impossible to enforce.

"If we acknowledge that this student has a clear and unequivocal right (to transfer) there are 60,000 others behind that student and we cannot educate all of those students," said the attorney representing Webster Groves, Douglas Copeland. 

In these transfer cases the unaccredited district is responsible for paying the students' tuition. Copeland said these payments are often nonexistent and don't cover all the costs of additional students.

Another part of the argument taps into the popularity of private schools in St. Louis. The student in question in Webster Groves' appeal currently attends a private school in St. Louis. Copeland argued this makes her ineligible to transfer to a public school outside her district.

Copeland said the court should consider the true motivation behind wanting to transfer, indicating that the student would be moving from a private to free education. If the court upholds the Turner v. Clayton decision, the number of students eligible for transfer would increase to include students enrolled in private or parochial schools.

"If the city of St. Louis was accredited and gave an education the state deemed appropriate, their parents might not have sent the child to private school," Chief Justice Richard Teitleman said.

Copeland said county districts could not handle the sudden influx of students leaving private schools in St. Louis city. A study conducted by Terrence Jones, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis concluded that almost 16,000 students would transfer if they had the choice, 24 percent leaving private schools.

"We can't handle one percent of the students that would come," Copeland said. "That's more than we educate right now."

The ability for students to transfer out of unaccredited districts is one of many education issues the state government is considering. The General Assembly is creating a package of education bills including tougher evaluations for teachers, the public school funding formula, accountability for charter schools and how to deal with the unaccredited districts in St. Louis in Kansas City.

Turner v. Clayton goes to trial next month in St. Louis County Court.

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