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Kansas City Schools’ Accreditation Woes: Are the Philanthropic Vultures Circling?

May 12, 2021

On April 02, 2021, the Kansas City Star reported that an “outside group” spent $100K in the Kansas City (MO) School Board election in support of two contenders, locals Tanesha Ford and Kandace Buckener.

In the April 2021 KC board election, two other members were unopposed. Ford and Buckener were buoyed by $100K in mystery money funneled through Blaque independent expenditure committee. Since Blaque is not directly connected to the candidates it supports, the “non-committee” is not required to disclose to the public who, exactly, is funding its efforts.

Members of the KC public in support of traditional public schools are concerned that Blaque’s undisclosed money comes from school choice promoters, as the April 23, 2021, KCUR reports:

Advocates for the district are worried about money that poured into the school board election from school choice proponents — BLAQUE gets funding from SchoolSmart KC, which in turn gets money from the Kauffman and Hall foundations.

Based on the KCUR article, Ford and Buckener appear to be concerned about “student achievement,” which certainly involves the test scores upon which KC’s longstanding accreditation woes critically depend. Other components of Missouri school performance include student attendance and graduation rates.

Kansas City Schools has had accreditation issues across the decades. KC Schools first lost accreditation in 2000, as noted in the May 04, 2000, Los Angeles Times:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —Kansas City’s public school district has become the first in the nation to lose its accredited status by failing all Missouri’s performance standards, and could be abolished unless it improves, officials said Wednesday.

The loss of state accreditation as of Monday set the clock ticking on a two-year evaluation in which the city’s 30,000 public school pupils will have to raise test scores, graduation rates and other academic measures or the district could be split up, taken over by the state, or dissolved. …

Missouri’s Board of Education voted in October to strip the Kansas City district’s accreditation for failing all 11 of its performance standards, but the action was delayed to prevent students from withdrawing en masse during the school year.

Then, a decade later, and after being granted provisional accreditation, the notably-smaller KC Schools lost accreditation again in 2011, as reported in the September 21, 2011, New York Times:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The struggling Kansas City, Missouri School District was stripped of its accreditation on Tuesday, raising the possibility of student departures and a state takeover. The action follows weeks of tumult that included another round of turnover of top leadership.

Though not entirely unexpected, the move was a painful return to reality for the city after a period of optimism that difficult choices were finally being made to confront longstanding problems in the school district, most notably the closing of nearly half the schools in response to a huge budget deficit.

The Missouri Board of Education cited the continued failure to improve academic performance and the continued instability in district leadership as driving its decision. The district has been provisionally accredited for nearly a decade after a two-year period during which it was unaccredited. …

The loss of accreditation does not go into effect until January [2012]….

More pressing are concerns that some parents in the district may now choose to enroll their children elsewhere. The district has shrunk to just 17,000 students as more people have turned to adjacent school districts, including other public districts in the city, as well as private or charter schools. An unaccredited school district must pay for the tuition and transportation costs for students wishing to transfer to another district….

KC’s accreditation wavering continued, as KC Schools in 2014 once more landed among the provisionally accredited. Moreover, in February 2019, it appeared that KC schools might regain accreditation, as the February 01, 2019, KSHB.com notes:

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas City Public Schools is back on its way to full accreditation after improving its state Annual Performance Report scores from last year.

KCPS scored 82.9 percent in 2018, earning 99.5 points out of a possible 120. Its score places the district in the accreditation category. School districts must earn at least 70 percent to be accredited.

But in order to receive full accreditation status, KCPS must have two consecutive years of a score between 70 percent and 100 percent. The district was downgraded to provisional accreditation last year after scoring 63.9 percent.

However, as the December 04, 2019, KCLICC.org notes, it turns out that KC’s 2018 score was based upon falsified information:

KCPS’s journey to full accreditation suffered a setback in November when the district revealed that an independent investigation requested by the district showed that a group of KCPS staff between 2013 and 2016 had falsified attendance data to help the district earn more APR points.

A former staff member alerted the current district administration that the numbers had been falsified.

The inflated numbers also brought the district more funding from the state based on per-student allocations. The district announced this week it was returning nearly $200,000 to the state.

The falsified numbers occurred during the tenure of former Superintendent Steve Green, who told The Kansas City Star he was not aware that staff had inflated the data.

The investigation showed that no data had been inflated under current Superintendent Mark Bedell, and the district failed to earn attendance points in recent APR reports.

As of January 2021, KC Schools again resides in the provisionally-accredited category.

Something in the history of KC Schools and/or the surrounding community is contributing to KC Schools’ continued destabilization. Based upon my knowledge of the disenfranchisement of the Black community in New Orleans, I thought that something was likely rooted in race and complicated by school choice.

To this end, I was fortunate to find this May 09, 2018, KCUR article on Kansas City’s racial history and how its schools were crippled by that history and its problems further exacerbated by the presence of charter schools intentionally opening in middle-income neighborhoods. Excerpts from the article:

Most cities have a school system. Kansas City has a system of schools.

It’s an important distinction in a metro bisected by a state line, in a city with dozens of charters, in a school district state lawmakers intentionally kept small.  This is a place where the quality of education often depends on parents’ ability to navigate a frustratingly complex system. …

Here’s what two years covering Kansas City schools has taught me: enduring residential segregation means white families are often in a position – quite literally – to make different education decisions than black families. And that means you can’t really talk about school choice in this city without acknowledging Kansas City’s racial dividing lines. …

When Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell accepted the district’s top job in 2016, school board member Jennifer Wolfsie sent him the book “Complex Justice: The Case of Missouri v. Jenkins,” by Joshua M. Dunn.

Wolfsie told Bedell it was required reading if he wanted to understand the desegregation case that divided the district and failed a generation of KCPS students. …

… The most salient point in “Complex Justice” – the one that gets missed when people talk about the failed magnet school experiment and white flight to the suburbs – is the fact that by the time Missouri v. Jenkins was winding its way through the courts in the late ’80s and early ’90s, black families in Kansas City didn’t care as much about integrated schools as they did good schools.

With court-ordered desegregation, they got neither. …

One of the reasons Kansas City didn’t have a desegregation case sooner was because while the city had separate schools for black and white children before Brown v. Board of Ed, they weren’t unequal. At the very least, they weren’t as unequal as schools in other cities. Historically black Lincoln College Preparatory Academy has always been one of the city’s top schools. …

But in 1973, the Supreme Court ruled de facto segregation wasn’t OK, either. That’s legalese for when segregation isn’t mandated by law, but it happens anyway. … Soon the Kansas City, Missouri, School District found itself under investigation.

When that happened, the KCMSD [Kansas City Missouri School District] school board did something highly unusual: in 1977, it preempted a lawsuit against the district by suing the predominately white suburban districts, the state of Missouri and the federal agency responsible for overseeing school integration. …

But in another desegregation case, the Supreme Court had already ruled that neighboring school districts couldn’t be compelled to be part of the solution if they hadn’t caused the problem. All the suburban districts had to do was show they hadn’t intentionally kept black students out, and they were dismissed as plaintiffs. …

There’s one more thing you need to know about the history of KCMSD: at a time when the city was aggressively annexing the small communities around it, Missouri lawmakers changed state law to stop the school district from expanding.

It used to be that any Missouri city with more than 500,000 residents could only have one school district. But in 1957, with Kansas City’s population approaching half a million, lawmakers bumped it up to 700,000. This ensured that the district would not automatically merge with Center, Hickman Mills and other school systems that at the time were majority white. When Kansas City’s population peaked in the late 1960s, it remained under the 700,000 threshold.

So as Kansas City grew and absorbed some of its inner ring suburbs, those communities kept their school districts. That’s how we ended up with a small, central school district surrounded by other small school districts instead of a big, city wide school district.

This is where Missouri v. Jenkins really starts to deviate from other desegregation cases that were fought in that era. When Judge Russell Clark took over the case, he ruled that KCMSD couldn’t sue the state because it was, in fact, an entity of the state.

But instead of dismissing the case, Clark did something really unusual. Unprecedented, even.

He made the school district a defendant in the suit it had brought.

Between 1984 and 1995, Judge Clark would order KCMSD to build magnet schools to attract white suburban students back to the district, a costly boondoggle that was inherently unfair to the black students integration was supposed to help. For the first few years, black students couldn’t even attend what the media dubbed “the Taj Mahal of schools” unless white students enrolled in sufficient number.

They never did. The magnet school experiment failed. In retrospect, it was probably the only solution available to Clark, who knew higher courts would strike down anything short of an aggressive plan to integrate city schools. But it was never going to work. Education policy wonks sometimes talk about the “tipping point” at which white parents are unwilling to send their kids to integrated schools. They usually put it around 50 percent.

But a study of demographic trends in the district between 1956 and 1974 suggests that the tipping point was actually much lower – only 30 percent black. In Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS), white students haven’t made up the majority since 1969. Today, the district is 54.7 percent black and 28.6 percent Hispanic. Less than 10 percent of the 14,240 students enrolled in KCPS in 2017 were white.

The district has struggled to retain superintendents and accreditation. Previous administrations mismanaged money and assets. In 2007, voters overwhelmingly approved the transfer of seven schools outside city limits to the Independence School District. In 2010, the district closed more than 20 schools because it couldn’t justify keeping the buildings open as enrollment declined. …

… The real test is whether KCPS can grow enrollment after decades of decline.

Because it’s not just the suburban schools KCPS is competing with these days. Charter schools, the first of which opened in 1999, have further complicated Kansas City’s education landscape.

In order to better understand KC Schools’ racial history, I bought the book, Complex Justice.

As for KC Schools’ competing with charter schools, well, that’s where knowing just who ponied up that $100K to have Ford and Buckener elected is important.

Is the goal of the mystery funders to somehow convert KC Schools into another state-takeover-become-all-charter system like New Orleans? Is that the hidden goal?

Neither Ford nor Buckener appears to be promoting such an agenda.

However, Ford at least seems content to have someone pay tens of thousands of dollars to get her elected and to not “have any certainty” about just who that someone is. From the April 02, 2021, KCUR article:

Ford said she wouldn’t speculate on the money trail.

“Any conversations about funding from BLAQUE need to be directed to the leaders of that organization because I don’t have any certainty about where they get their funding,” Ford said.

You bought my KC board election, but I am apparently content to not know who you are.

Hm.

Makes one wonder if the philanthropic vultures are circling.

______________________________________________________________

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2 Comments
  1. If FAILED public schools are put out of business by superior Charter schools I say HOORAY!!! The Federal Department of Education and the IDEA should be abolished. The progressive garbage ideology and policies have RUINED education in America and you all should be ASHAMED OF YOURSELVES. You are responsible for the ruination of many generations of children. #endpubliceducation !!!

  2. speduktr permalink

    I think you would be hard pressed to find many professionally trained educators who would call education policy for the past two decades progressive. For someone who trumpets the merits of charter schools, you should be praising the public/private partnership that has championed charters. Do some research FuHunt.

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