At hearing of Missouri House committee, KC officials weigh in on education

On the same day that state officials left Kansas City Public Schools unaccredited for now, Mayor Sly James and Superintendent Steve Green asked state lawmakers to support their efforts to improve education in the city.

At a public hearing before 18 members of the 22-member Missouri House Interim Committee on Education, the conversation ranged from a push for early childhood education to support for the mayor’s city-wide reading initiative. The potential transfer of students from unaccredited Kansas City schools to surrounding suburban districts also was discussed.

The committee, which is traveling the state hearing from educators and residents, said its plan is to put together a report on what people across Missouri say is needed to improve education and present it to other legislators.

“My hope is that they will be able to dial in on three or four things that they know will be catalysts for change and improvement,” Green said after his presentation.

He and James each spoke and answered questions from the committee for about an hour with Green repeatedly stressing that the Kansas City school district “has turned the corner and is moving in the right direction.”

“It is a new day in the Kansas City school district,” he told lawmakers. “We are not what we were in the past. The best thing you could do for the district is provide us with support and encouragement” on the progress made so far.

What worries Green though — keeps him up at night — is that Kansas City will have to foot the bill should students transfer en masse out of his unaccredited district to accredited suburban districts. The cost, he said, could throw the district into “financial turmoil.”

Both Green and James said if the committee could do only one thing to improve academic performance, it would be to promote early childhood education.

“I don’t think there is any way that you can start education too soon,” the mayor said.

James said the conversation about education in Kansas City has been too focused on policies and boundaries and not enough on students. “It’s time to refocus the community education discussion.”

He talked about his initiative, Turn the Page KC, which was launched in 2011 to get all Kansas City students reading at grade level by third grade. The mayor reported that the reading program served 2,700 students in eight weeks this past summer.

He said that on average, students gained five months in reading over the summer. Research shows that students not involved in a summer academic program lose about two months in reading during those months.

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