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Kansas City District Must Allow Student Transfers For Now, State Board Rules

The embattled Kansas City, Mo., school district—which has been working to regain accreditation—fell short of earning "temporary provisional accreditation" that would have kept students from transferring this fall to nearby districts under the Missouri law that permits families to leave for higher-performing schools.

That decision from Missouri's state board of education on Tuesday deals the 13,000-student district a setback in its quest to regain accreditation and stave off an outflow of students to neighboring districts that it must pay for. State board members said the district had not accumulated enough data to convince them that the district had done enough to earn provisional status. They will reconsider the district's request this fall.

R. Stephen Green, the Kansas City schools chief, disagreed and warned that opening the door to student transfers would end up hurting students, especially once the district regains its accredited status. From his statement after the board's decision:

"My leadership team and I respect the state Board's decision, though we do disagree. Our top priority is to do what was best for children. Students who transfer out of KCPS may be forced to return as we gain provisional accreditation or better, and that would represent a hardship for those families. Students struggle when they are moved back and forth between school districts. We sought to help those students avoid that kind of whiplash."

The district lost its accreditation in January 2012 following years of underperformance. Last fall, it petitioned to have the status bumped up to "provisionally accredited" after growth in test scores and stabilizing finance. But Missouri's education commissioner, Chris Nicastro, insisted on another year of progress before issuing the status. 

In an interview earlier this year with Education Week, Mr. Green said that the district lost a handful of students to transfers in 2013-14, but that without a move to provisional status in time for the 2014-15 school year, the district would become "even more exposed." 

The Kansas City Star reported on Tuesday that Superintendent Green said 18 students already  requested to transfer out of the district. In two St. Louis-area school districts that lost accreditation—Normandy and Riverview Gardens—more than 2,000 students transferred to higher-performing districts, which sparked a statewide debate and legislative battles over how to intervene in low-performing districts and fix the controversial student-transfer law.

Missouri education officials have since taken over the Normandy district—which had been on the verge of bankruptcy. The state has installed an appointed school board, extended the school year, and has been scrambling to hire teachers, administrators, and other personnel before the new school year begins. The state takeover was orignially going to keep additional Normandy students from transferring to other districts, but the state board voted on Tuesday to allow those students who had already transferred in 2013-14, to continue doing so for the upcoming school year.

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