The holding pattern continues for the Lee’s Summit R-7 School District and four other Kansas City-area suburban districts after the Missouri Supreme Court issued June 11 a ruling on an appeal concerning whether a state statute is constitutional in a case involving the Clayton and St. Louis Public School Districts.
The Supreme Court determined that statute 167.131 – otherwise known as the student transfer law – is constitutional in a case involving the two school districts. Statute 167.131 allows students in unaccredited school districts to transfer to accredited schools at no expense to their families, while the failing district must pay for the student’s education cost and transportation.
The ruling, which remanded part of the case back to the circuit court level in St. Louis County, gives students residing in failing St. Louis-area school districts the unconditional right to transfer to surrounding accredited districts, including the Clayton School District.
According to Janice Phelan, a spokeswoman for the R-7 school district, taxpayers of the Kansas City area school districts, including Lee’s Summit R-7, will proceed with their challenge of the student transfer statute.
In an email, Phelan said the taxpayers and area school districts agrees with a Jackson County Circuit Judge’s ruling last year that the transfer statute imposes a new mandate on accredited school district because it requires accredited districts to admit a new population of students which they were previously not required to admit.
According to Phelan – who referred media inquiries to attorney Duane Martin – in their continued challenge of the statute, taxpayers and area school districts will highlight that the complete absence of any funding from the state for non-resident transfer students is a violation of the Hancock Amendment, which protects citizens from tax increases.
The Hancock Amendment prohibits the state from imposing new mandates upon political subdivisions – including school districts – without full state financing. A violation of the amendment has been at the forefront of the suburban KC school districts’ challenge.
The Missouri Supreme Court found that the transfer statute in the St. Louis case does not violate the Hancock Amendment because it does not impose any new or increased duty on the Clayton School District.
Although the facts in the Clayton and St. Louis School Districts’ appeal are somewhat similar to the facts underlying a pending appeal involving the Kansas City-area accredited school districts, “there are crucial differences between the cases and the Supreme Court’s recent opinion does not necessarily foreshadow how the Court will rule” on the Kansas City case, Martin, attorney for the suburban districts in the Kansas City case, said in a written statement to the Kansas City Star.
Martin added the suburban districts will continue to challenge the student transfer law.
In a ruling handed down Aug. 16 of last year, Circuit Judge W. Brent Powell ruled the transfer law is an unfunded mandate that violates the Hancock Amendment of the Missouri Constitution for three of the five school districts that had sued the state to block the law.
Powell ruled in favor of taxpayers representing the Lee’s Summit, Independence and North Kansas City school districts, agreeing that financial officers demonstrated the law would bring unfunded costs.
Powell ruled against school districts in Blue Springs and Raytown.
Martin said then that until the legal issues are resolved, Lee’s Summit R-7 and the other school districts would not be admitting students.
Contrary to the Supreme Court’s opinion in the case in St. Louis, Powell determined that the transfer statute does impose a new mandate on the accredited school districts to admit a new population of students from Kansas City Public Schools.
Powell further determined prior to the trial that the state had failed to make a specific appropriation to finance the costs of the new mandate.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster’s office had also argued that no Hancock violation existed in the St. Louis-area case, and that districts needed to comply with the statute.
“We are pleased that our position has prevailed,” Koster said in a statement June 11. “This clearly is a difficult situation, but our guiding principle has always been putting kids first. The state’s ultimate goal must be full funding of the foundation formula and one hundred percent district accreditation in our state.”