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Midwest Democracy | State takeover of KC schools clears another hurdle in Missouri Senate

The state could immediately step in and take over the unaccredited Kansas City school district under a bill that received initial approval in the Missouri Senate Monday night.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. David Pearce of Warrensburg, needs to be approved one more time in the Senate before going to the Missouri House.

If passed, a two-year waiting period for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to intervene in a failing school district would be eliminated. Once a district is declared unaccredited, the state could allow continued governance by the existing local board or appoint a special administrative board to oversee the district.

Most assume the bill will result in the state dissolving the Kansas City school board. In December, Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro unsuccessfully lobbied the Kansas City school board to consider voluntarily turning control of the district over to a not-yet-created special administrative board.

If the state establishes an alternative governing structure for a district, it must review and recertify that new structure every three years. In addition, the state must create a public comment method, establish expectations for academic progress by creating a time line for full accreditation, and provide annual reports to the General Assembly and governor on the district's progress.

The House last month gave a similar bill unanimous approval. The sponsor of the House bill, Republican Rep. Mike Lair of Chillicothe, said last week that he's confident a Senate bill could win quick approval and head to the governor.

"I'm not really worried about whether its my bill or another bill, I'm only concerned with making sure we do everything we can to help the 17,000 kids in the Kansas City district as soon as possible," Lair said.

The state intervention bill is the only education bill to find any success so far this legislative session.

The Senate vote came on the eve of today's school board elections, where four of nine seats are on the ballot. Also Monday, interim Kansas City Superintendent Steve Green agreed to a two-year contract to become the district’s permanent leader.