WELLSTON, MO.— Just weeks after the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a ruling that would allow students from failing school districts to transfer to better ones, disadvantaged students–mostly poor and black–rushed across county lines to fill seats in far flung, affluent schools.
The law was supposed to give thousands of students from unaccredited school districts an opportunity to attend higher-performing schools, a golden ticket for some of the neediest students in the state. But the law has triggered consequences that few school leaders, parents or politicians were prepared for.
In one unaccredited school district, Normandy, located in the near-suburbs of St. Louis, nearly 25% of the student body chose to transfer. The exodus has financially devastated the already struggling district because the law requires transferring districts to pay for all transfer-related costs–including tuition and transportation for students who leave. Having to subsidize kids who no longer attend the local school means the district has millions of dollars less in resources for the students who remain.
Unable to bear the unexpected financial burden, Normandy will likely go bankrupt by the spring. If that happens the state could dissolve or dismantle the district, scattering students to other poorly performing districts or to schools in far away, possibly unwelcoming communities.