Barbara Shelly

Student transfer situation not ideal

Updated: 2013-06-19T23:07:32Z

By Barbara Shelly

The Kansas City Star

At long last, clarity.

In a muddy sort of way.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education today issued a set of guidelines for the transfer of students out of unaccredited school districts. State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro acted swiftly after a court ruling last week upheld a Missouri statute enabling families to transfer into accredited districts if they lived in the boundaries of a school district that was unaccredited.

According to the guidelines, accredited districts (called receiving districts) should adopt a policy for class size and student-teacher ratios in line with state standards. They must then accept as many students from the unaccredited district as they have room for, on a lottery basis. The unaccredited district will pay tuition for the transferring students.

The guidelines say that unaccredited districts must select “at least one” receiving district to which it will bus or otherwise transport students. Parents who enroll children in a different district must provide their own transportation.

These new guidelines could affect the unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools as early as this year. Dissatisfied families have until Aug. 1 to notify both the Kansas City district and their preferred receiving district of their wish to tranfer.

The timing is tricky, though. Administrators at Kansas City Public Schools are hoping that improved test scores, to be released officially in August, will move the district back to provisionally accredited status in the fall.

Under Nicastro’s guidelines, students who transfer this school year could remain at the receiving school for the academic year, but would have to return to their home district if it became provisionally accredited.

Obviously, that kind of forced mobility is not ideal for either schools or families. I don’t know if families will be reluctant to transfer their children to a district for what might amount to just a one-year stay, but it definitely is something to factor into the thinking process.

I’ll say this again: We need a more reliable fix for the Kansas City Public Schools than these swings between provisional accreditation to loss of accreditation. In the two decades that Missouri’s accreditation standards have been in place, the urban school district has never achieved full accreditation. I would like to see the state and community consider more opportunities for stable districts like Independence and Center to annex parts of the Kansas City Public Schools, leaving a smaller core district that would be the focus of intensive “cradle to college” services for students and families.

Right now, though, there is little if any momentum for any kind of substantial reform of the Kansas City Public Schools. I applaud the efforts of Superintendent Steve Green and his staff and the school board as they strive for provisional accreditation. But provisional accreditation isn’t good enough.

For now, it will be fascinating to see what “receiving districts” such as Independence, Raytown and North Kansas City will do in the next few weeks as far as setting up class size policies and admissions procedures. A separate court case involving transfers in the Kansas City area is still under appeal, and could also affect what happens.

But for now, Nicastro is to be applauded for getting out in front with guidelines. The Missouri legislature could have resolved the ambiguities in its transfer statute years ago, but chose to let the courts and state bureaucrats hash it out. Now area school districts must act swiftly to enact their own procedures for handling the transfer situation.

To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to bshelly@kcstar.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/bshelly.

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