Friday, June 14, 2013
The Missouri Supreme Court recently upheld the constitutionality of a state statute that requires failing school districts to pay tuition when their students transfer to new districts in Breitenfeld v. School District of Clayton, No. SC92653 (Mo. banc June 11, 2013). In the case, parents of children in the St. Louis Public School district (that lost its state accreditation in 2007, but has regained provisional accreditation) invoked Missouri’s “Unaccredited District Tuition” statute (Mo. Rev. Stat. § 167.131). The statute requires a failing school district to pay the per pupil cost for educating its students who transfer to an accredited school district.
Everyone involved objected—the St. Louis District, which would have been required to pay almost $50,000 for the Breitenfeld children to attend the neighboring Clayton school district; the transfer district Clayton, on the grounds that the statute transfer law is an unfunded, and therefore unconstitutional, state mandate; and intervenors. No St. Louis students had transferred using the statute because the Clayton district had decided to not to accept them until the litigation was resolved. (Breitenfeld’s children were in private school while they lived in the St. Louis school district and then paid private tuition to attend a Clayton school during the litigation.)
Now that the case is decided, school districts that adjoin failing school districts face the potential for thousands of new students showing up this fall. It is unclear if that will happen, as some parents in failing school districts face daunting logistical problems to transfer their children to a new school district. Missouri currently has three unaccredited school districts - Kansas City and the smaller suburban St. Louis districts of Normandy and Riverview Gardens. Read the court’s opinion here.