- Associated Press - Thursday, March 5, 2015

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A Senate bill intended to fix issues with Missouri’s law allowing students in struggling schools to transfer to better-performing ones could cost more than $200 million next fiscal year, according to an estimate from legislative researchers.

The high cost led a key senator to suggest Thursday that the bill will either need to be revised or lawmakers may need to look for an alternative.

The legislation deals with a Missouri law that requires failing schools to pay for students’ tuition if they decide to transfer elsewhere, which has created a financial burden for some schools. The Senate bill would give students the option to transfer from failing schools to other schools in their home district with the goal of stopping money from flowing elsewhere.

But much of the cost stems from other provisions in the legislation.

A measure requiring dyslexia screening in public schools is projected to cost $125 million in the 2016 fiscal year, as schools across the state would have to contract with dyslexia specialists. Another provision requiring St. Louis County schools to hold back students scoring poorly in English and math is projected to cost nearly $83 million of additional state aid.

Those items account for the bulk of the total estimated costs of $136 million to local school districts and $88 million from the state’s general revenue fund, according to the Committee on Legislative Research.

The high price tag presents a road block for the legislation, especially at a time when Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon already is restricting spending because of slow revenue growth.

Because the bill already has received first-round Senate approval, it no longer can be amended on the floor.

It currently is pending in the Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee, whose chairman told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that - at least at this point - the committee isn’t going to send the bill to the Senate floor for a final vote.

Sen. David Pearce, the primary sponsor of a package of combined bills on student transfers, told The Associated Press that he’s working to scale back some of the more expensive proposals. That could include passing the bill in the Senate and then amending the bill in the House to require only students in unaccredited schools be held back.

The Warrensburg Republican also plans to challenge the estimate on how much dyslexia screening will cost.

Lawmakers also could turn to Rep. David Wood’s bill, which similarly deals with student transfer but has fewer costly measures.

Estimates put the price tag for the House legislation around $13.5 million next fiscal year, but that could change, depending on Senate amendments.

“I’m sure there are several things they will add,” said Wood, a Versailles Republican. “Hopefully they will keep the expensive items out.”

Pearce also said he wants to keep the legislation streamlined. And despite the 17 amendments previously added to his bill on the Senate floor, he said he’s optimistic lawmakers will come to a compromise by the end of session.

“We’re in a good position to have a lot of options with the bill or bills,” Pearce said. “I’m pretty confident we’ll get good legislation passed by the time we adjourn.”


Education bills are SB 1, HB 42.



Senate: https://www.senate.mo.gov


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