An eight-year battle for a shorter school bus ride for one St. Albans family ended in victory last month. Missouri House Bill 1606 was signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson on July 18, after a hard-fought battle by the Cory Kraft family.
The Kraft family moved to St. Albans, located in the Washington School District, in 2001 when Kraft’s daughters were in preschool. It didn’t take long for Kraft to notice an inequity when it came to school district lines. To attend Washington’s middle and high schools, his daughters would be required to travel 19 miles, although schools in the Rockwood District were just five miles away. The 19-mile trip translated to a bus ride lasting as long as 90 minutes each way.
“Logistically, this didn’t make sense,” Kraft explained.
A Missouri Transportation Hardship state code stipulation [167.121, RSMo. and 5 CSR 20-261.050] already existed; however, the Kraft family did not qualify. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education [DESE] defined an unusual or unreasonable transportation hardship as “usually requiring a ride time greater than 75 minutes.” The Washington District provided a sampling of bus rides to and from St. Albans and its schools that on average fell under the 75-minute guideline. To that end, Kraft’s children did not qualify for transfer.
“Traffic conditions and weather can greatly impact drive time,” Kraft said. “Using time, rather than mileage, seems very arbitrary.” Neighbors also affected by the long bus ride kept a detailed daily log of their students’ rides. Based on that evidence, Kraft believes the school district provided a sampling that intentionally would not qualify the residents’ children.
While Kraft eventually got permission to send his oldest daughter to Eureka High, it came at the cost of out-of-district tuition, more than $10,000 per school year.
DESE’s Missouri Transportation Hardship measure also stipulated that a student’s transfer could be reviewed and, potentially, revoked at any time. And the Washington School District did attempt to revoke the Kraft’s right to send their children to Rockwood, further frustrating the family. After hitting roadblocks with the local school district and DESE, Kraft, now the father of four school-aged children, lobbied for a change in the law.
Former Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed hardship transportation legislation several times between 2012 and 2016. The various bills were met with opposition by the Washington School District, which claimed such legislation was unfair. If passed, the legislation would have required Washington to pay Rockwood’s out-of-district tuition for each of the transfer students.
“Yet Rockwood teachers who live in the Washington School District could send their child to Rockwood for free,” Kraft said.
Despite his children growing older, Kraft never gave up the fight. With former Gov. Eric Greitens in office, Kraft lobbied for a new bill. That legislation, finally enacted by Parson, is specific to St Albans and St. Elizabeth, Missouri.
The bill, in part, specifies: “If the residence of a pupil is so located that attendance in the district of residence constitutes an unusual or unreasonable transportation hardship because of natural barriers, travel time, or distance, the commissioner of education or his or her designee may assign the pupil to another district.” It also specifically states: “The actual driving distance from the pupil’s residence to the attendance center in the district of residence is 15 miles or more by the shortest route available as determined by the commissioner or his or her designee.“ To qualify, students must be enrolled in their home district for at least one year before requesting a transfer.
According to David Tramel, DESE’s coordinator of financial and administrative services, the education department was not involved in developing the language of the new bill. However, Tramel explained some of the key points affecting parents and students.“Once the hardship assignment is granted, the assignment continues until the student and any sibling of the student, who attends the same attendance center, completes his or her course of study in the receiving district or the parent or guardian withdrawals the student,” Tramel said. “It is our understanding that the sending district is responsible for the transferring student’s tuition unless the receiving district’s tuition rate is higher than the sending district. In that case, the parent is responsible for paying the difference.”
Kraft’s wife, Felice, added, “We’re so overjoyed and elated that everyone in the community can benefit from this action.”
“We think it’s a great opportunity for students to go to great schools,” Kraft said.