The Missouri House narrowly voted Thursday to allow open enrollment across school districts.
HB 253, spearheaded by Republican Rep. Brad Pollitt, now heads to the Senate.
“If we want to make changes in our public school system, we can’t keep doing the same things over and over again,” Pollitt said during debate on the House floor Tuesday, according to the Springfield News-Leader.
Pollitt said that open enrollment would be voluntary and that districts wouldn’t have to accept any transfer students. The program would begin in the 2024-25 school year.
The vote was 85-69, with one Democrat voting for the bill, and one Republican voting against it, in an otherwise party-line vote.
Opponents of open enrollment continue to claim it would hurt rural school districts, even as data disprove the criticisms.
A study of Florida’s open enrollment system, for example, shows the number of rural schools nearly doubled after open enrollment, while the numbers of rural students who chose something other than a public school went from 11 percent to 17 percent.
Springfield, which has the largest district in Missouri, has already successfully implemented open enrollment.
The growing support for open enrollment comes as a new report shows 100 districts in the state are either “provisionally accredited” or “unaccredited” based on poor performance scores, as reported by The Lion.
Previously, under the old scoring system, just 10 schools shared the distinction of sub-accreditation.
“While you can’t compare the scores to the prior years, you can look at the achievement data,” Commissioner Margie Vandeven of Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said about the report. “These data tell us that students in school year 2021 and 2022 were still not performing to the levels prior to the pandemic.”
One Republican cautioned critics the changes instituted by open enrollment were rather incremental reforms, even if they felt “bold,” and that they could be adjusted over time.
“We can come back any year and revisit it, but why not be bold, try a small step and see if it doesn’t improve the quality of education in the state of Missouri,” said Rep. Bill Owen, according to Fox News 2. “Just the idea of creating a little bit of competition is going to make everybody’s district better.”