Thursday, September 26, 2013
Early this summer, I posted on the rising tensions in Missouri, where a statute authorized the transfer of students out of failing schools and districts to surrounding districts. In other words, the state had authorized the crucial interdistrict transfers or reassignments that the Supreme Court had long ago forbade federal courts from ordering in Milliken v. Bradley. As advocates and researchers have lamented ever since, interdistrict reassignments are the only hope of integration in most metropolitan areas.
After the enactment of the Missouri statute, thousands of students in St. Louis and Kansas City have availed themselves of this opportunity. The problem was that the surrounding districts claimed they could not accommodate them and the districts loosing them claimed they could not afford the financial hit because the students' per pupil expenditures would leave with them.
To the surprise of many, the surrounding districts were able to absorb these students and work out the logistics of enrolling them in a very short time period. The financial fears of the districts from which these students departed, however, are coming true. Edweek reports that some districts are on the edge of bankruptcy. Normandy school district, for instance, has an operating budget of $49 million, but will loose $14 million under the statute's funding shifts. The hope is that the state will come up with a fix for these districts. These districts were already unaccredited, which is the basis for the transfers, and have little hope of reaccreditation in the context of bankruptcy.
I would grade this statute as a good job half-way done. Interdistrict transfers are a great solution to the ills of school segregation. For that reason, I have consistently argued that Congress must similarly use its Title I funds to incentivize integrative transfers, but I also point out that Congress must include hold-harmless provisions for the schools left behind. Otherwise, Congress would be helping some students at the expense of others. Moreover, hold-harmless provisions theoretically free up resources for the original schools because they now have fewer students. This could present the opportunity for them to take steps to improvement rather than just treading water. Let's hope Missouri can come up with the money and sense to achieve this end. For more on using Title I to facilitate integration and improve schools, see here.