The Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday over a 20-year-old law that requires unaccredited school districts to pay tuition for students who transfer to nearby accredited schools.
Last year, St. Louis County Judge David Vincent the Third ruled that the law in question was both unconstitutional and unenforceable, and that it would create an unfunded mandate for unaccredited schools.
Jim Layton with the State Attorney General’s office defended the 1993 law before the High Court. He says one of Judge Vincent’s main concerns has been rendered moot.
“Whether it’s provisional or full accreditation doesn’t make any difference,” says Layton. “The moment that the school district became provisionally accredited, the students no longer had a right under (section) 167-131. The St. Louis School District was then obligated to open their doors to those students.”
Attorney Elkin Kistner represents Gina Breitenfeld, a St. Louis woman who enrolled her children in the Clayton School district.
“There’s no support under the law for providing the districts with an impossibility defense, which is heretofore an unrecognized defense in a civil action,” says Kistner.
An attorney for the state argued that school districts, regardless of their accreditation status, have always been required to educate all resident students, and that paying their tuition in another district is a mere extension of that requirement. .
Other school districts could be affected, including Kansas City, which lost its accreditation in 2011.
The High Court has not ruled on the case yet.