Kansas City Board Sues State Over Accreditation
KANSAS CITY (AP) - The Kansas City school district filed a lawsuit Friday seeking an accreditation upgrade that would stop it from being subjected to a state takeover and prevent its students from transferring to better-performing districts.
In October, the State Board of Education declined to grant the district provisional accreditation after it made its biggest academic improvement in years. The state board said the district's improvements weren't sufficient and that it wanted to make sure they were sustainable.
The district, however, stressed in the lawsuit filed against the Missouri State Board of Education and Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in Cole County Circuit Court that it would "suffer immediate and irreparable injury, loss or damage" without court intervention. Kansas City also noted in the lawsuit that it fared better than the St. Louis district, which has regained provisional accreditation.
If it remains unaccredited, Kansas City could begin to see its students taking advantage of a state law to transfer to accredited school systems as soon as next fall, unless the legislature changes the law before then. The law requires unaccredited districts to pick up the tuition tab, and the cost is threatening to bankrupt two St. Louis County districts where transfers began this fall. A court case had held up the Kansas City transfers, but the district and its suburban neighbors lost their legal challenge this week.
The lawsuit also said a state consultant, Cities for Educational Entrepreneurship Trust, was working with state education officials on a plan to convert the district's schools into charters. CEE-Trust, an Indianapolis-based firm supportive of charter school, plans to release its recommendation in January. The state has increased powers to intervene quickly in unaccredited districts under a change in state law.
Education department spokeswoman Sarah Potter said no statement would be released Friday.
The suit asks a judge to mandate that the state board grant the district provisional accreditation, conditioned upon it not losing academic ground in 2014 and 2015. Alternatively it asks that the judge temporarily grant the district provisional accreditation while a review is conducted to determine whether the state board's actions were "unreasonable, unlawful, arbitrary, capricious, or otherwise involves an abuse of discretion."
The suit comes less than a week after The Kansas City Star reported that CEE-Trust was hired as a consultant even though its $385,000 contract bid was nearly three times higher than the closest competitor. The story, which was based on emails that the interfaith social justice organization MORE2 obtained through a Sunshine Law request, said the education department solicited proposals only after the state board balked at hiring the consultant without them. Two state administrators who emails showed had helped craft the original memorandum of understanding with CEE-Trust were among the evaluators who scored the bids. The Kauffman Foundation and the Hall Family Foundation are bankrolling the contract.
This week, a group of Democratic lawmakers called for Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro's resignation while another has requested an investigation.