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.
Education experts said they believed it was the first time a large public school system had lost its accreditation, although a growing number of urban school systems, including those in Chicago and Detroit, have been effectively taken over by the local or state governments.
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.
"We've been gradually ratcheting up the standards over the past decade," Missouri school board spokesman Jim Morris said. "It's partly [the] result of additional teeth being put into accreditation standards."
He said Kansas City students who want to attend college should not be affected by the loss of accreditation.
But the loss of accreditation means the district has to pay tuition and transportation costs for students who want to transfer elsewhere.
The board also would have stripped St. Louis' school district of its accreditation if not for a racial desegregation case that shields the district through the next school year. St. Louis was meeting just three of the 11 state standards but believes it will improve in time and meet the minimum of seven criteria to maintain its accredited status, Morris said.
Kansas City has operated under court supervision since a 1977 racial desegregation suit charged the largely minority student body was receiving an inferior education because of race. A judge ended court oversight last year, but an appeals court reinstated court control in March.
Over the last two decades, the district has spent nearly $2 billion to build and equip new classrooms, boost teacher pay and develop "magnet" programs to lure white students from the suburbs. While some of the changes were heralded, some complained that money was spent frivolously and that efforts to please the court were undermining efforts to educate children.
Some bright students gravitated to the 15 charter schools that have sprung up in the city of 440,000.
"Kansas City is a premier example of a district struggling for a long time where a large infusion of dollars didn't really seem to make a difference," said Mary Fulton, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States in Denver.
She said improving basic education is done by training teachers and administrators along with improving facilities.