Senate dealing with unaccredited schools - Sen. Cunningham more money for charter schools

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BY TIM SAMPSON
Missouri News Horizon

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Kansas City public schools have only been officially unaccredited for a month, but lawmakers in the state capitol are already weighing drastic plans to help students move forward.

On Tuesday, the Senate General Laws committee heard two hours of emotional testimony for and against a proposal that would effectively carve up the Kansas City public school district and annex it to neighboring suburban districts.

“How many more generations have to be hurt by these schools before something is done,” said Sen. Jane Cunningham, committee chair and the sponsor of several of the bills that were considered.

The bills, which also include provisions that would help increase funding to private charter schools and allow school districts to share resources to increase efficiency, are collectively being refereed to as the “Turner Fix.”

The Turner Fix comes in response to a state Supreme Court ruling in the Turner case that gives students in unaccredited public school districts like Kansas City and St. Louis the right to attend neighboring accredited school districts at the expense of the unaccredited districts.

But schools in the St. Louis and Kansas City areas fear this could swamp neighboring districts and prove a further detriment to the city schools.

Cunningham and other supporters of the legislation to carve up Kansas City school district, like Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, say enough is enough when it comes to waiting for the district to improve on it’s own, noting that it has been in and out of accreditation multiple times in the last 20 years.

Many Kansas City school students, parents and private school proprietors also spoke in favor of another provision that would create a new tax credit to help encourage Missourians to donate to organizations that provide charter school scholarships.

But the interim superintended of Kansas City Public Schools, Steve Green, said the district hasn’t had enough time to turn things around. The district officially lost its accreditation at the start of the year following a vote by the state board of education in September. At the time, members of the board of education said it was a vote that had been put off as long as possible for the struggling district. Kansas City schools couldn’t even meet six of the state’s 14 accreditation standards.

“We’ve only been unaccredited for a month, and we are working hard for a change,” Green said in a plea to the committee not to take harsh action.

The Turner Fix proposals, which will be molded into a single bill most likely, did not come for a vote on Tuesday. Similar legislation failed to make it through the General Assembly last year.