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'Open Enrollment' plan passes Missouri House, aimed at giving parents flexibility

A school district could choose whether to take students from outside the district and no more than 3% of students in a district would be able to transfer per year.

ST. LOUIS — Tuesday, the Missouri House approved a measure to give parents more flexibility on where their child goes to school, that includes having the ability to transfer to a school district outside of your neighborhood.

It's a change of thinking when you think about your "neighborhood school". Let's say your child is zoned to go to school in St. Charles or Brentwood, but you'd rather them go to Ladue or Hazelwood, some lawmakers say you should have that right.

"If it was a better option for me to go to a different school, I would do it,” says 10th grader Rihanna Robinson of St. Louis.

She would have her father's blessing.

"Whatever she needs, I'm going to support her,” L.N. Robinson added.

It might be possible if Missouri House Bill 253 becomes law. The bill was drafted by Representative Brad Pollitt, a Republican who represents portions of Johnson and Pettis counties near Kansas City. He says it would give parents flexibility over where their child learns.

5 On Your Side asked him to describe a scenario where a family would benefit.

"A single mom or a single dad and they work in a different community so their two kids are in the public school where they live but they have to travel 20 miles to go to work and let's say they have to work till 5 o’clock and let's say their child has an after school activity that they may have to miss, this will give them maybe an opportunity,” he responded.

Rep. Pollitt said being able to transfer your child to a different district could help in cases where classrooms are under capacity. "I've had a lot of really good school districts say to me 'we’re going to get overrun'. Well no."

That's because a school district can choose whether or not to take students from outside the district and no more than 3% of students in a district would be able to transfer per school year.

"The local money stays local. So if a student leaves one district, whatever those taxpayers pay to that district, that money stays in that district. The state money follows the student,” he added.

Some question if that would come at the expense of school districts already struggling financially.

"We have schools that have the ability to spend a considerable amount of money per student and we have some districts that can't, so not all schools are equal when it comes to funding,” said Paul Ziegler of EducationPlus. “If we want open enrollment, how do we fund schools in a way that makes that a realistic or reasonable option?"

“In the St. Louis area, we have 23 different school districts that range from very well-funded schools to very poorly funded schools," Rep. Deb Lavender,a Democrat that represents parts of St. Louis County, said in a statement to 5 On Your Side. "If we want schools to work for all our kids, they should be funded equitably across the board. As long as we have a difference in income levels in our school districts we will have schools with different budgets. Open enrollment does not work for all our communities. If we want children to get a good education we should pay our teachers better than last in the nation and we should spend more of our tax dollars to get higher than 47th in the nation for state money spent on education.”

Meantime, House Bill 253 also dubbed as the Open Enrollment bill, is headed to the Senate, a concept potentially making mandatory neighborhood schools a thing of the past.

"It might not always be the best option for the student,” Rihanna Robinson said.

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