By LESLIE COLLINS
October 30, 2013
Despite making strides, Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) won’t regain accreditation this year.
The State Board of Education took no action Oct. 22 on re-instating KCPS’ accreditation status.
“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.”
To gauge a school district’s performance and grant accreditation, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) now uses the MSIP 5 (Missouri School Improvement Program) Performance Standards, which looks for “high achievement as well as sustained improvement in district performance.” The system is designed to look at three years’ worth of Annual Performance Report (APR) data, and the 2012-2013 school year was the first year on the new system. For the 2012-2013 school year, KCPS earned 84 APR points, enough to qualify for provisional accreditation. To earn full accreditation, a school district must score at least 98 out of 140 points.
According to Missouri Commissioner of Education Dr. Chris Nicastro, a majority of the 2013 APR points were earned as a result of progress made in 2011 and 2012, “two years when the district produced extremely low results.”
Results from the 2013 APR indicated that about 70 percent of KCPS students failed to show proficiency in English and math.
KCPS Superintendent Dr. Stephen Green said the district must “knuckle down” and continue its work. Despite the accreditation setback, KCPS won’t be deterred, he said.
“We’re financially stable, we’re academically focused, we’re gong to continue that – and we will rise to the level of the next hoop that we have to jump through,” Green said during an Oct. 22 press conference.
In an open letter on the district’s Facebook page, Green said failing to regain accreditation will not be a “distraction” and added that, “The work our students, families and staff have done thus far to improve this school system is incredible. We need to keep going full throttle, together, to deliver a third consecutive year of improvement, regardless of the politics swirling in our periphery.”
For KCPS, regaining state accreditation is vital if the district wants to remain fiscally sound.
Earlier this summer in the Turner case involving the St. Louis Public Schools, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that the state’s student transfer law is constitutional. The law requires unaccredited school districts to pay the tuition, and in some cases transportation costs, for a student who wishes to transfer to an accredited school district. A tuition amount must be agreed upon by the unaccredited school district and the accredited school district. However, if the districts can’t agree upon an amount, state education officials will decide the tuition amount. While the law has been upheld in the St. Louis Public Schools system, a pending court case is preventing student transfers in Kansas City. In that case, now pending in the Missouri Supreme Court, five area school districts (Independence, Lee’s Summit, North Kansas City, Raytown and Blue Springs) are arguing that the student transfer law is not a fully funded mandate and that the school districts will not receive state aid or enough tuition to cover the costs of educating the non-resident transfer students.
“Prior to this Court’s Turner decision, the Department of Education did not enforce any requirement on the Area School Districts to admit mass numbers of students residing in unaccredited school districts, and no Missouri school district was ever required to comply with such a requirement,” the lawsuit states.
In March and April of 2012, research firm Patron Insight, Inc. conducted a survey to determine how many KCPS students would transfer to surrounding districts if their parents didn’t have to pay tuition. Patron Insight, Inc. contacted 600 KCPS parents with at least one school aged child and determined that about 7,759 students would transfer to one of the five area school districts. Patron used a conservative methodology, and the survey produced a 95 percent confidence rate. As part of the survey, parents indicated which school district they would send their child to, and Patron determined each district would receive anywhere from several hundred to 2,000 additional students.
Financial officers at the area school districts determined that the cost of capital expenditures alone due to the transfers would range from $465,615 to $3.9 million.
Surrounding school districts would also incur additional costs related to teacher salaries, students with individualized education plans (IEP), students on free and reduced lunches, English as second language learners, among others.
KCPS would also feel the burden of student transfers.
“Looking at the mass exodus of transfers, it could cost our district tens of millions of dollars (in tuition),” State rep. J.J. Rizzo said of KCPS. “It would bankrupt the district in my personal opinion.”
Green also spoke to the hardship of student transfers.
“We would not only have our challenges with the financial part of it, but it would also in some ways hamstring our efforts with regard to the academic goals we have and what we’re trying to accomplish with the children.”
Two other districts are unaccredited in Missouri: the Normandy School District and Riverview Gardens, both in St. Louis. The Normandy School District will most likely face bankruptcy as a result of student transfers, Rizzo said.
To prevent the bankruptcy, Missouri legislators are considering allotting $6 million to the district next year, he said. However, there’s no assurance that funding will come to fruition, he said. State rep. Ryan Silvey is asking the Missouri Board of Education to grant KCPS temporary provisional accreditation through the summer to give the legislature time to figure out a solution.
“We’re working hard to fix the situation,” Rizzo said of KCPS. “We’re very excited about the strides the Kansas City school district has made. We want to be able to support them and do what’s best for the children.”