Senate’s handling of open enrollment bill highlights Missouri legislature’s return

(The Center Square) – When the Missouri legislature returned from its spring break on Monday, many were watching a bill changing regulations for public school enrollment.

House Bill 253, passed by an 85-69 vote on March 8 in the House of Representatives, allows public school students to transfer to another district starting in the 2024-25 school year. It’s the third straight year the bill passed out of the House.

“We all know when a bill gets to the Senate what happens when it gets there,” said Rep. Brad Pollitt, R-Sedalia, the bill’s sponsor. “They may have some things they might want to put on it, some things they might want to look at. And I’m willing to listen, willing to talk.”

Pollitt emphasized the bill will not harm public school districts.

“I believe this is a pro public education bill because it keeps the tax dollars, it keeps the students in the public school system that are being taught by public school teachers and paying into the public school retirement system, which puts $786 million into our economy each and every year,” said Pollitt, the former superintendent of the Sedalia School District.

The bill allows school districts to restrict the number of transferring students to 3% of the previous school year’s enrollment. Each school must publish the number of transfer students the district is willing to receive. Parents will be responsible for transportation to the nonresident school or to an existing bus stop location in the nonresident district.

House Democrats said constituents in rural school districts will once again protest the bill.

“We know that the school is the most important piece – the lifeline – in those towns and open enrollment does nothing to support those schools,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said. “We know that open enrollment just means charter schools everywhere, and I think that most Missourians don’t want that. And most of the Republicans seem to listen when it comes to this topic with their constituents. And I think this year is going to be exactly the same.”

Republicans counter with the argument of the bill providing accountability for taxpayers, and said rural schools are achieving favorable scores in the new statewide testing system.

“What this bill does is it gives the ability for the taxpayers in those districts, who have children in the school, to decide what they want the future of their school to look like,” Pollitt said. “With the money from local taxpayers who send their kids to the school, it gives them the choice on whether they want to stay in that school or whether they want to try a different opportunity.”

House Democrats say the bill is a part of a Republican strategy to introduce charter schools throughout the state.

“The Republicans have actually said this before: Open enrollment is first and charter school expansion is second,” Quade said. “They have actually said that is the plan. And so this is going to build off of that.”

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