An omnibus education bill currently on the governor’s desk would allow residents in St. Albans to send their kids to schools in the Rockwood School District and Washington taxpayers get to foot the bill by paying their tuition.
House Bill 1606 sponsored by State Rep. Elaine Gannon, R-De Soto, contains language taken from bills originally filed by State Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, and State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Washington, that failed to get passed out of their respective Houses and was instead added to Gannon’s bill.
Washington Superintendent of Schools Dr. Lori VanLeer says the bill is fraudulently positive legislation.
The district is budgeting $135,000 to cover the tuition for the students in the Rockwood District.
“We already have five students from St. Albans going,” VanLeer said. “I’ve done an analysis of all students with St. Albans addresses and it looks like there is another seven. A lot of school-age kids from that area go to private schools, so I just don’t know.”
She added even with Washington being forced to pay the tuition, parents of those students will still have to pay an additional $1,000 for their kids to go to Rockwood schools.
VanLeer stressed the desire of parents in that area to send their kids to Rockwood instead of Washington schools has nothing to do with the quality of either district, but the proximity and travel times from their homes.
“The first thing people do when they are buying a house is look at what school district they are in and who they pay taxes to,” VanLeer said. “The problem is they only pay taxes once a year and we are paying for three of their kids to go out of district.
If signed by Gov. Mike Parson, the bill would require the commissioner of education to assign St. Albans students to another school district if the student’s parent requests, the driving distance from the student’s residence to his or her school in the district of residence is at least 15 miles, and the new school is at least 5 miles closer.
VanLeer said in some cases the travel times from the St. Albans area has been as high as 75 minutes, but that average is between 46 and 65 minutes.
“The problem always arises when a student graduates Labadie Elementary and has to come to Washington for middle school,” VanLeer said. “Our district is 275 square miles and I know it’s not ideal driving back roads.”
She added allowing the students to go to closer schools is the lesser of two evils for the district.
The only other option for residents of that area would be to get legislation passed changing the boundaries of the two school districts.
That option would be even more financially disastrous for Washington School District due to the large tax base from homes in that affluent area of the district.
VanLeer added lawmakers from Franklin County have filed bills to allow the transportation hardships going back as far as 2012.
Schatz’ bill (SB 709) was introduced in December of 2017 and after making its way through the Senate Education Committee it was placed on the formal calendar for perfection on the last day of the session and never made it over to the House.
Curtman’s bill (HB 2032) contained almost identical language, but did not specifically reference St. Albans.
The bill was introduced in January and after being passed out of the House Government Efficiency Committee, it was then referred to the House Rules and Legislative Oversight Committee where no further action was taken.
According to a transcript from the government efficiency committee, supporters testified that these changes make common sense.
The bill puts what is best for the children first, rather than the school district, as it should.
Testifying for the bill were Rep. Curtman and Missouri Education Reform Council.
Those who opposed the bill say that the family for whom this bill was written have not considered all their remedies.
Testifying against the bill was School Administrators Coalition.