In a little more than a week, the Kansas City School District loses its state accreditation, an acknowledgment of a fact that’s been evident for decades: The public schools at the core of the metro area are failing students and crimping the entire metro area’s economic and social development.

In a little more than a week, the Kansas City School District loses its state accreditation, an acknowledgment of a fact that’s been evident for decades: The public schools at the core of the metro area are failing students and crimping the entire metro area’s economic and social development.

What happens next is not clear. Parents in an unaccredited district can seek to enroll their children in neighboring districts. The prospect of that happening on a large scale, however, has caused understandable anxiety in suburban school districts that, in theory, might have to suddenly scale up operations and take on costs. Those costs are supposed to be borne by the Kansas City District, but officials there have fought at every turn over money. Recall the absurd lawsuit with the Independence School District, regarding tax money, after the 2008 transfer of seven western Independence schools from Kansas City.

It seems likely that student transfers might not come in a wave until legal, financial, political and policy issues get worked out in the new year. There’s a key court case in St. Louis over the costs of transfers. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is weighing its options while making it clear that drastic changes are needed. There is talk of the Kansas City mayor taking a direct role in running the district. There is talk of essentially contracting with neighboring districts to step in and run schools in various places in Kansas City, supposedly as a temporary measure.

And, as always, Kansas City school officials insist they just need more time to carry out needed reforms that – this time, we promise – will turn things around. They have tried to sell that mirage for decades.

This lands in the lap of a highly partisan and often dysfunctional Missouri General Assembly – in an election year, no less, as if the political pressures weren’t high enough already. There is a chance of needed change, there is chance for much mischief, and there is the chance of inflicting further damage on a damaged school system and its neighbors.

Residents of Eastern Jackson County could be forgiven for thinking they had gotten out from under the drag of the Kansas City schools when voters approved the schools transfer in 2007. But it is not that simple, and the fundamental fact is the 13,000-plus students in the Kansas City district deserve a good education. That district is not close to meeting even minimal state standards. Delay in resolving all of these issues leaves those students and families with unacceptably poor options.