Editor’s Note: This afternoon, I received a robo call and e-mail from the superintendent of the North Kansas City School District, where my daughter is a student. The topic was the loss of accreditation in Kansas City, Missouri School District and how it might affect us. I am sure parents and teachers in other districts on the Missouri side of the state line are receiving similar messages. In today’s article, we focus on how one school board in the Lee’s Summit R-7 district is dealing with this issue.
Since at least August, Missouri’s Education Commissioner has been hinting publicly that the Kansas City, Missouri School District would lose its accreditation, so Lee’s Summit R-7 Superintendent David McGehee prepared a contingency plan. Good thing he did, because yesterday the State Board of Education did indeed announce that Kansas City will lose its accreditation. When that happens, state statute allows students from the unaccredited schools to transfer to other districts.
“The statute does not allow for receiving districts to deny students due to undue burdens such as overcrowding, necessity to construct additional schools or hire more teachers,” Dr. McGehee informed his Board of Education during their regular monthly meeting last week.
He plans to seek judicial guidance and legislative assistance in dealing with this issue.
Kansas City is not the only district in the state to lose its accreditation. The St. Louis Public Schools have been unaccredited since 2007, resulting in a law suit — Turner v. Clayton — that Kansas City-area educators are watching closely. The judge’s decision in this case may impact whether and how local districts must absorb students wishing to transfer from the Kansas City, Missouri School District. However, the lack of accreditation here will be official on January 1, 2012, and the judge has continued the St. Louis law suit until January 23, which means that Kansas City-area administrators will be without court guidance for more than three weeks.
In Turner v. Clayton, parents who live in the St. Louis school district are suing on behalf of their child. Before St. Louis lost accreditation, the family was paying tuition for their daughter to attend school in the nearby Clayton district. According to state statute, districts that lose accreditation must pay for tuition and transportation of students who wish to transfer. The Turners went to court asking St. Louis to pay their child’s tuition and reimbursement for what they already had paid.
“KCMO School District officials have stated that they cannot afford to pay the tuition and transportation costs for students from their district choosing to go to another district,” Dr. McGehee stated in his report to the Lee’s Summit R-7 board.
While waiting to hear the outcome of Turner v. Clayton, Dr. McGehee said the district’s lawyer advised placing students from Kansas City, Missouri on a waiting list, which is what districts in the St. Louis area are doing.
According to the superintendent, Lee’s Summit R-7 already has policies regarding residency waivers and homeless students, which they may need to use in relation to transfer requests. However, he said the board may need to hold an emergency meeting in October to put into place a policy “ensuring that we stipulate that any student attending our district as required by law on a tuition basis will not be enrolled until the full tuition is received by the district.”
Students transferring to Lee’s Summit R-7 without paying tuition would cause additional financial stress at a time when local tax revenue and state support are in decline. This year the district had to cut $25 million from its budget, including eliminating some teaching positions.
Further stress could come in the form of lower Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) scores. A primary reason Kansas City, Missouri lost accreditation was because its students have performed poorly on the annual Missouri Assessment Program standardized test, which the state uses to calculate AYP. Last year, for example, Kansas City’s average communication arts score was 29.4 compared with an Lee’s Summit’s 67. Kansas City’s average math score was 27.9 compared to 68.3 in Lee’s Summit. Neither district made AYP, but the suburban district came closer. Too many students transferring from the unaccredited urban district could bring the Lee’s Summit R-7 scores down even lower. According to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, all districts must make AYP or face state sanctions.
In addition to waiting for guidance from the judicial branch of the state government, Dr. McGehee informed the Lee’s Summit Board of Education that he planned to tackle the issue legislatively. He hopes to work with members of Missouri’s General Assembly to write a bill that would support “reasonable parameters and procedures governing acceptance of transfer students from unaccredited districts to accredited districts, maintaining local control for accredited districts.”
Items from his report that are on his wish list for such legislation include:
- The accredited district must be free to set appropriate class sizes, and leave space for growth within the district.
- The accredited district must be free to assign transfer students from unaccredited districts to the school of its choice.
- The accredited district must not be required to build new schools or school additions to accommodate transferring students.
- Unaccredited school districts must pay the cost per pupil of the accredited school district or the sending district whichever is higher and the actual cost associated with special needs and ELL [English Language Learner] students.
- Students who wish to transfer must have been enrolled in the unaccredited school district for at last one school year prior to the transfer.
- If the unaccredited school district regains provisional or full accreditation, the transfer students must return to their home district.
- Accommodations must be made to provide waivers for immediately including students in the district assessments that factor into the calculation of the APR [Annual Performance Report] and AYP.
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