Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro has presented a solid plan to boost the chances for all Missouri students to attend a successful school.
Her proposal, presented to the state Board of Education on Tuesday, fortunately sidesteps a disruptive push to make Kansas City the test market for an experimental model of public schools governance.
Nicastros plan for dealing with unaccredited districts is commendably flexible, avoiding a one size fits all prescription. And it proposes that corrective measures begin at the school building level, as some schools in a troubled district may be performing well.
But Nicastros proposal does little to clarify the muddled situation regarding the fate of the unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools.
The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will make no attempt to interfere with the destructive transfer provision written into state law. The Missouri General Assembly has shown no signs of coalescing around a workable fix, and time is running out for the Kansas City region to avoid the chaos certain to result if the law goes into effect.
Nicastros plan creates a five-step ladder for school districts based on performance.
Districts that are doing well will continue to operate independently with minimal state oversight. But those that show signs of slipping will be monitored sooner and more closely than is currently the case.
Districts that become provisionally accredited will be evaluated on a building-by-building basis. A team will draw up a road map for boosting academic achievement, teacher effectiveness and school governance and finance.
Unaccredited districts will be subject to a range of interventions, from short-term performance contracts to a new form of governance. Those that dont improve quickly will be designated as lapsed. Schools could be turned over to new operators, become part of a newly constituted district, or be parceled out to neighboring districts.
Much attention had focused on a report by the Indianapolis-based CEE-Trust firm that recommended dismantling the Kansas City Public Schools and replacing it with a network of schools run by independent non-profit operators.
Though Nicastro and the board commissioned the report, few of its findings showed up in the commissioners recommendations. Only if the school district lapsed would a plan close to the one recommended by CEE-Trust be considered.
Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Steve Green applauded Nicastros recommendations and expressed confidence the district would be provisionally accredited after its next round of test scores.
But even if hes right, that may not be soon enough to escape the trigger in state law that allows students in unaccredited districts to transfer into healthier nearby districts, with the failing district footing the bill.
Sensible legislation is needed to rein in the extent and costs of the transfer law, which has driven two districts in the St. Louis area to the verge of bankruptcy. But while the Senate seems serious about fixing the law, the House Education Committee appears preoccupied with other matters.
The dithering in the capitol needs to stop. School districts are required to take action on teacher contracts by mid-April. The legislature needs to clarify the transfer law by mid-March at the latest to allow districts to plan for the next school year.
State education officials are making good progress on a plan for helping students in troubled schools. Now lawmakers must do their part.