Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Missouri's School Transfer Law: Not a Hancock Violation but a Mere Bandage on Wounded Districts

Academic journal article Missouri Law Review

Missouri's School Transfer Law: Not a Hancock Violation but a Mere Bandage on Wounded Districts

Article excerpt

Breitenfeld v. School District of Clayton, 399 S.W.3d 816 (Mo. 2013) (en banc)

I. Introduction

In December of 2013, three school districts in Missouri were unaccredited: Kansas City Public Schools, the Normandy School District, and the Riverview Gardens School District. (1) As of August 2014, (2) the Saint Louis Public School District ("SLPS") had provisional accreditation. (3) SLPS is the district involved in the litigation that is the subject of this Note. Ten other Missouri school districts also had provisional accreditation in July of 2013. (4)

There is a law in Missouri--Missouri Revised Statutes Section 167.131 --that allows students from an unaccredited school district to transfer to an accredited school district, while having their tuition and transportation costs paid for by the unaccredited school district. (5) Students transferring from unaccredited to accredited school districts pursuant to the transfer statute may be rewarded with a better educational experience in the accredited district; however, there are many injurious consequences of the statute. These consequences negatively affect students who have used or will use the transfer statute to transfer districts, (6) accredited districts that receive transfer students, (7) the accreditation system that is used to assess Missouri school districts' performance, (8) and, most of all, unaccredited districts that lose students because of the transfer law. (9)

In Breitenfeld v. School District of Clayton, a parent of students residing in the SLPS District brought suit to enforce the transfer law so that her children could attend the neighboring accredited Clayton School District ("Clayton") using tuition paid for by SLPS. (10) Both SLPS and Clayton argued a defense to the enforceability of the law on the theory of impossibility--that it would be "impossible" for the districts to comply with the law because Clayton could not provide the necessary resources for the transfer students and SLPS could not afford to pay the tuition costs for transfer students. (11) Taxpayers from both SLPS and Clayton intervened to argue that the statute created an unfunded mandate in violation of the Hancock Amendment of the Missouri Constitution. (12) The court upheld the law, rejecting the defense of impossibility and holding that the law did not violate the Hancock Amendment. (13)

This Note first discusses the Breitenfeld decision and then explores the prior cases and legislation leading up to the Breitenfeld decision. In discussing Breitenfeld, this Note describes how the transfer law will affect transferred students, unaccredited districts forced to pay tuition, accredited districts forced to accept transfer students, and the public school accreditation system in Missouri. Finally, this Note proposes that because the adverse consequences outweigh the benefits of the law, action must be taken so that unaccredited school districts can have a fighting chance to become accredited again. Legislative change is necessary because a solution is not forthcoming from the Supreme Court of Missouri, as the court recently affirmed its Breitenfeld holding in Blue Springs R-IV School District v. School District of Kansas City. (14) This ruling confirms that attempting to solve the problems the transfer law causes by challenging the law under the Hancock Amendment will be unsuccessful. (15) Proposed in this Note are two other possible options: that lawmakers amend or repeal the law or that administrators change the Missouri accreditation system.

II. Facts and Holding

SLPS (16) became unaccredited in 2007. (17) The plaintiff, Gina Breitenfeld, (18) and her two children resided in the SLPS district, but the children had never attended SLPS schools. (19) For the duration of the Breitenfeld children's education, they attended private schools. (20) However, Breitenfeld enrolled her children in Clayton for the 2007-2008 school year pursuant to a tuition agreement between herself and Clayton. …

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