Is Jeff Grisamore really the champion of those that are affected by autism or does he use them as stepping stones in his political career? What is he doing to stop restraint, seclusion, or abuse? What is he doing to make sure that they are receiving the education and services that they are entitled to?
Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the student transfer bill Tuesday as promised, saying it diverted public money to private schools and exacerbated hardships faced by students in struggling districts and their families.
Nixon also called out leaders in the Francis Howell School District for a board decision last week, saying it was wrong to "turn its back" on about 350 students accepted last year but now sent back to failing Normandy schools. He urged other districts not to do the same.
"To overcome the complex problems affecting struggling school districts, we all need to be part of the solution," Nixon said. "We may be comprised of many communities, but we are one state... To turn our back on a single child is to turn our back on our own future."
Nixon said the bill removed the requirement in the current law that says unaccredited districts must pay for transportation for students who want to transfer. He also had problems with the bill permitting receiving school districts to charge a discounted tuition rate in exchange for a pass on accountability.
But Senate leaders stood by the bill, calling the Governor's veto a setback for Missouri's most vulnerable children, and chastising Nixon for what they said was disinterest in helping draft a solution.
“The governor has provided no solutions during this process, offering only a fear-based public relations strategy and rhetoric,” said Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, and a co-sponsor of the bill. "This bipartisan bill gave real solutions to real students. My disappointment is in knowing yet another few years’ worth of students has been deemed expendable in this political fight.”
The Legislature convenes for the annual veto session on Sept. 10, when it could decide whether to override the veto.
In the last week of the session, the House passed the bill 89-66 and the Senate passed it 28-3. The Senate’s vote was strong enough to overturn a veto. But the House was 20 votes short of a potential override.
The veto comes as the Missouri State Board of Education is set to takeover the Normandy School District on July 1. Nixon has hopes for the board's plan to improve academics and finances in Normandy and said today he did not think calling a special session of the Legislature would lead to a solution.
He said although the Legislature failed to address the issue in a responsible way, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has stepped in with a "reasonable and workable path," getting input from parents, teachers and community leaders.
After decades of failure on state accountability standards, a state Supreme Court decision last summer triggered the exodus of more than 2,000 students from Normandy and Riverview Gardens, the other unaccredited district in the region. The transfers cost Normandy and Riverview Gardens about $1.5 million in monthly tuition and transportation bills.
Normandy chose to bus students to Francis Howell, a district in St. Charles County with some schools more than 22 miles away. The district brought in more than $3.4 million in revenue from transfer student tuition.
When the state takes over and Normandy becomes a new entity on July 1, Missouri education officials determined that the new Normandy Schools Collaborative would not have an accreditation status, bringing it out from under the law that had pushed it to the brink of bankruptcy, with Riverview Gardens not far behind. Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said she had hoped the students who had transferred for 2013-14 and wanted to stay in their new schools would be allowed to do so.
But with no accreditation status, the current law no longer requires Francis Howell to accept Normandy students, and the School Board voted 5-0 in closed session last week go back to its previous policy of not accepting nonresident students, except in certain circumstances.
Other districts with have a combined total of about 650 students who want to return this year are deciding whether to accept a lowered tuition rate for Riverview Gardens students, who are still entitled to transfer under the law, and also to do the same for any Normandy students they had in their schools last year that want to return for 2014-15.
A spokesman for the Hazelwood School District this week said the district plans to follow the state education department's guidelines for student transfers, including a lowered tuition rate for Riverview Gardens. Hazelwood has a total of 170 student transfers who have said they want to come back, mostly from Riverview Gardens. Kirkwood School District Superintendent Tom Williams said he will recommend to the School Board that they retain the eligible Normandy students who want to stay.