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Failing Missouri School Districts Would Be Shut Down Under New Proposal

A draft plan that calls for shutting down school districts that have lost accreditation in Missouri is drawing heavy fire, even as the state's top education official pledged that other ideas will be considered for how to intervene in failing school systems before a final decision is made.

On Monday, Missouri's state board of education heard a proposal that would empower the state to disband unaccredited districts and replace them with a state-run entity that would report to the state education department. The board is not slated to vote on the proposal—or any alternatives—until March. Still, the meeting drew more than 100 community  members and educators, many of them opposed to any form of state takeover.

The plan calls for setting up a state-run entity—akin somewhat to Louisiana's Recovery School District—that would initially operate the schools from the unaccredited district. Eventually, those schools would be turned over to nonprofit operators that would have charter-like independence over matters such as budgeting, hiring staff, and curriculum, according to the proposal. The state entity would manage operations like transportation and building maintenance, and hold the schools accountable for students' academic performance.

Currently, Missouri has three unaccredited districts, including Kansas City. State law allows students to transfer out of an unaccredited district—at the home district's expense. That caused upheaval last fall as thousands of students switched schools and put two small, St. Louis-area districts at risk for bankruptcy.

Missouri's commissioner of education, Chris Nicastro, tapped CEE-Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit, to devise the plan for how the state could overhaul the Kansas City system which lost accreditation in 2012. The district has been trying for months to regain provisional accreditation status to avert a state takeover. But Nicastro said the plan could be considered for any unaccredited district in the state. The CEE-Trust plan would also dismantle any collective bargaining agreements that the Kansas City district has with the local teachers' union.

CEE-Trust, for those of you unfamiliar with this group, stands for the Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust. It is a coalition of roughly two dozen city-based foundations, nonprofits, and mayors' offices that support efforts to improve local schools. It focuses on charter school incubation, blended-learning instructional models, and leadership development. 

While Lousiana's RSD is the most prominent example, three other states also have set up separate entities to oversee troubled schools: Michigan, Virginia, and Tennessee.

If this is the route that Missouri education officials choose for intervening in struggling schools and districts—a rather drastic one—there will no doubt be a bloodbath. This will be one to follow closely.

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