Missouri board keeps Kansas City public schools unaccredited

Kansas City schools are remaining unaccredited after Missouri education officials decided to leave the district's status unchanged.

The Kansas City School District will remain unaccredited after Missouri education officials decided on Tuesday to leave the district's status unchanged.

This will make it easier for some students to transfer out of the district to better nearby districts.

Kansas City's public schools have been unaccredited since 2012, and the district last month requested an upgrade to provisional accreditation. Superintendent Stephen Green pointed to stable finances and improvement on school performance reports.

He said administrators and teachers remain focused on improving student achievement and regaining full accreditation.

"We need to knuckle down and continue our work," he said. "We're financially stable. We're academically focused. We're going to continue that. We will rise to the level of the next hoop that we have to jump through."

But state board members believe the district hasn't made enough strides, particularly in the new accreditation system, and thus declined to upgrade the district's status. State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro previously recommended the board keep Kansas City as unaccredited, and it was expected the board would support her recommendation.

"We have carefully considered the district's request and its progress this year, but we want to ensure that progress is sustainable," said Peter Herschend, president of the State Board of Education. "We owe it to the children to use the accountability system to accurately reflect the district's performance."

The difference between unaccredited and provisionally accredited can be significant. For example, Missouri law requires unaccredited districts to pay the costs of students who choose to transfer to other districts. A court case over possible student transfers from Kansas City was argued this month before the Missouri Supreme Court.

In light of the decision, Kansas City Mayor Sly James said he is refocusing the community's education conversation.

"Decades of talk about district boundary lines, political scorekeeping and other tertiary adult-focused issues haven't gotten us far down the path of ensuring every child in the city has access to a quality education," James said. "It's time to refocus the community education discussion on our students."

The mayor is pushing two education programs. For more information, click here and here.

Kansas City Public Schools has about 16,500 students. The district has an estimated $238 budget and it could lose up to $150 million due to transferring students if the Supreme Court allows that. September would likely be the soonest that transfers would occur.

Green is hopeful that the district's side will be heard by the state's court, but knows it may not.

"Sometimes things don't turn out the way you want. This is a life lesson in resiliency," he said.

The devastating financial cost to unaccredited districts is something the Missouri General Assembly is likely to discuss in next year's session.

Sen. Ryan Silvey, a powerful Republican who represents the Northland, had asked the state board to grant temporary provisional accreditation to KCPS through next summer because of the financial considerations due to transfers. He said the delay would give state lawmakers time to act and fine tune the transfer law.

Three other Missouri districts are unaccredited. The Normandy School District in the St. Louis area is on the verge of bankruptcy due to transfers. Silvey said Nicastro has indicated she intends to ask lawmakers for $6 million to "bail out" the district.

"As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I believe that sets a terrible precedent moving forward and will actively oppose that appropriation," Silvey wrote. He said bailing out the Kansas City School District could cost more than $60 million, which he said he would oppose.

He said the state board's vote could result in expensive litigation and school district bankruptcies.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) and The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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