Legislation that would permanently dissolve the unaccredited Kansas City Public Schools district, carve it up and require neighboring districts to take over city schools won approval of a Missouri Senate committee Tuesday.
The lone dissenting vote in committee, Democratic Sen. Kiki Curls of Kansas City, said the resounding message she’s received from her constituents since the bill first became public is that they are adamantly opposed to forced annexation.
The bill, which is sponsored by Republican Sen. Jane Cunningham of Chesterfield, would not call for a vote before the district is dissolved. It would happen automatically within six months of a district becoming unaccredited or by July 1, whichever occurs later. For Kansas City, that would mean the 2012-2013 school year would be the last under the current district boundary lines.
“You can’t move forward with something like this with no concern for the will of the people in the area,” Curls said.
Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan, a Democrat from Independence, also pointed to the lack of a referendum as a key problem with Cunningham’s legislation.
Under current law, a local referendum must be held before any district lines can change. The last time the boundary change law was used was in 2007, when the annexation of a portion of Kansas City schools into Independence was approved by voters in both districts.
“Taxpayers should have a say about the future of their school district,” Callahan said. “The only way something like this works is with the consent of the governed.”
Cunningham has argued that immediate action is needed after decades of watching the Kansas City district’s performance continue a downward spiral.
In September, the Missouri Board of Education voted to revoke the district’s accreditation for failing to reach state performance standards. It was the second time in 11 years that the district has lost accreditation.
In addition to the provision dealing directly with Kansas City’s schools, the bill would create a tax-credit-supported scholarship program for students in unaccredited districts to attend private and parochial schools. Similar ideas have died in the legislature repeatedly.
The bill would also allow accredited districts to set criteria for admitting transfers from their unaccredited neighbors.