Yael T. Abouhalkah

Check out the good news about K-12 education in Kansas City

Updated: 2014-01-09T01:32:23Z

By YAEL T. ABOUHALKAH

The Kansas City Star

The many serious problems facing the Kansas City Public Schools have been in the news for decades.

But there’s an important, far more positive and less-known side to the subject of K-12 education in Kansas City:

More children — white, black and Hispanic — who live within the city limits are attending high-achieving school districts than ever before.

Check out the differences from the 1998-99 school year and 15 years later:

• Enrollment in the currently unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools has plummeted from 36,000 students to under 17,000 now.

• Because of boundary changes, several thousand former Kansas City Public Schools students now go to the higher-performing Independence School District.

• Because of migration from Kansas City’s core to other parts of the city, more students who would have attended the Kansas City Public Schools now go to the fully accredited Raytown and Lee’s Summit districts.

• Enrollment in the also long-struggling Hickman Mills School District in south Kansas City has declined by almost 1,000 children over that 15-year period.

• Meanwhile, it’s most encouraging for the future of Kansas City that student enrollment has surged in other districts that have strong test scores and offer many advanced programs for students.

Several of these high-achieving, accredited districts educate children in the fast-growing Northland, primarily in Kansas City north of the Missouri River.

The Liberty School District has added 5,500 students in 15 years.

The Park Hill School District has grown by more than 2,000 children in that time.

And the North Kansas City and Platte County R-III districts also are up about 2,000 students each.

This good-news piece about the quality of education offered to Kansas City’s children is at odds with the bad-news story spun by too many Johnson County boosters and real estate agents who try to steer families to that county and its excellent schools.

Unfortunately, too many Kansas Citians have a similar negative perception of the quality of education offered in the city — that how goes the future of the Kansas City Public Schools, goes the future of the city.

That perception is unduly harsh and overly broad. Yet it likely will be reinforced to a degree in coming weeks when the travails of the Kansas City Public Schools will be part of the focus of the new Missouri General Assembly session.

Should the transfer law that allows children to leave the Kansas City district for nearby districts be changed? Yes, to avoid bankrupting the district.

Should the Kansas City district be broken up? That probably won’t happen — even though the facts show that already has partly occurred to the Kansas City Public Schools, which bulged with 75,000 students in 1968. White flight and, more recently, students leaving for the Independence district and about 10,000 going to the charter schools have radically reduced that long-ago enrollment number.

As for the charter schools: While some definitely offer better educational opportunities to children who could attend or once did attend the Kansas City Public Schools, the charters overall have not come close to being the great improvement they were promised to be.

Yes, it would be tremendous if the Kansas City Public Schools could quickly offer a higher quality education and thus much brighter futures to students. Local and state officials must stay keenly focused on those worthy goals.

However, while the fortunes of that one school district paint Kansas City overall in a bad light, they should never be allowed to hold back progress in the city.

To reach Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/YaelTAbouhalkah.

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