By Chris Blank
JEFFERSON CITY – Kansas City's public schools haven't seen sufficient or long enough improvement to upgrade its accreditation, Missouri's State Board of Education president said Tuesday.
Kansas City has been unaccredited since 2012, which makes it subject to a law that allows students to transfer to other nearby districts. Unaccredited districts also can face a state takeover, though that has not happened in Kansas City. In seeking provisional accreditation, the district argued its finances were stable and it had seen improvement on school performance reports.
The State Board of Education turned back the request without a vote during a meeting in Jefferson City.
"It's like a baseball team having a winning streak of one," Board President Peter Herschend told reporters after the meeting in explaining the board's decision. "That's not a streak, that's a good performance. Glad they won, but they sure didn't win the division title."
R. Stephen Green, superintendent for Kansas City Public Schools, said the district sees the state board's handling of its request as delaying action. He said the district would knuckle down and do more work.
"We think we have made dramatic improvement in a very short period of time," Green said during a news conference in Kansas City. "I challenge anyone to find another district in the state that has made improvements as quickly as we have made."
The superintendent presented the district's case for provisional accreditation last month to the State Board of Education. Kansas City nearly scored in the provisionally accredited range last year and hit the mark in the most recent school performance report. It got a boost because the new system gives credit for improvements, but most students are not hitting proficiency goals in core subjects.
State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro announced last month she would recommend Kansas City remain unaccredited while citing concerns that many students still are struggling. State education officials also have said most school districts will not see changes to their accreditation until 2015 to give them three years to improve under a new evaluation system.
The Missouri School Boards' Association and several neighboring districts supported Kansas City's request. Kansas City Mayor Sly James said Tuesday the district's lack of accreditation highlights the need for other community initiatives, such as summer learning.
"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."
On student transfers, the Missouri Supreme Court heard arguments earlier this month in a case focused on Kansas City. Taxpayers from five suburban Kansas City districts – Independence, Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit, North Kansas City and Raytown – contend the transfer law is an unfunded mandate and violates the state constitution.
Kansas City has about 15,000 students in kindergarten through high school and roughly 1,000 in preschool. Green said projections show the district could lose $60 million to $150 million from a $268 million budget.
"It would put us in serious financial challenge," he said.
So far, the ongoing legal dispute has meant that no students have transferred from Kansas City schools.