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Student transfers on hold in Kansas City

Updated: 2013-06-24T03:11:20Z

By JOE ROBERTSON

The Kansas City Star

The doors are not yet open for students in the unaccredited Kansas City school district to transfer to neighboring accredited districts.

Though several districts in the St. Louis area last week announced they are taking state guidance and processing transfers this summer, Kansas City area districts still stand on uncertain legal ground.

A state Supreme Court ruling earlier this month upheld a state law that allows transfers from unaccredited districts, prompting the state to issue new guidelines.

But another case before the high court involving Kansas City-area districts is still pending, and the attorney for the districts said they will wait.

Movement in the case could come as early as this week, said Duane Martin, who is representing the Blue Springs, Independence, Lee’s Summit, North Kansas City and Raytown districts in the case.

But a final resolution is unlikely to come in time to allow transfers for the 2013-2014 school year, he said.

“With all the remaining legal issues to be resolved, we’re looking at least until next year (before any transfers),” he said.

School districts that could receive students have been maintaining waiting lists since Kansas City Public Schools became unaccredited in 2012, and that will continue, he said.

At issue is this question: Does the law force districts into an unfunded mandate that is barred by the Hancock Amendment to the Missouri Constitution?

Judges at the circuit court level — in St. Louis and in Kansas City — said yes. Schools that incur costs beyond the tuition they would receive from the unaccredited districts could claim a Hancock violation.

The Supreme Court reversed the ruling in the St. Louis case, saying the law does not add more students to the system or change the basic obligations of the public schools.

Martin said he believes the St. Louis-area and Kansas City cases are specific to the districts involved and that the pending Kansas City case needs to be carried out.

The Missouri attorney general’s office has asked that the case be returned to the circuit court for reconsideration in light of the St. Louis ruling. A decision to send the case back could come as early as this week.

The potential impact of the law has been shifting as different districts have fallen in and out of accreditation.

In its guidelines, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education made several recommendations, including saying districts should make decisions by Aug. 1 and that they can establish maximum class sizes and set up a lottery system if transfer requests are heavy.

Kansas City Public Schools has had about 50 students request transfers since it became unaccredited in January 2012, the district reported.

The district hopes to follow St. Louis’ path and regain provisional accreditation. The district reported preliminary data that it believes show it will likely score at a provisionally accredited level when the state’s report card comes in August.

To reach Joe Robertson, call 816-234-4789 or send email to jrobertson@kcstar.com.

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