JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri education officials could gain new power to quickly intervene in the unaccredited Kansas City School District, under legislation endorsed Tuesday night by the state Senate.
Although it would apply to any failing school district in Missouri, the Senate legislation is targeted primarily at the Kansas City school system that has been operating without state accreditation since January 2012 and had been on shaky ground long before then.
Under current law, state officials must wait more than two years — until June 30, 2014, in the case of the Kansas City district — before intervening in an unaccredited district.
"That's too long," said Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, the bill's sponsor. "We have students that are languishing, who need help, and we as a state need to come in and do that."
The Senate legislation would allow the state to intervene immediately after a school district loses its accreditation — or, as Pearce put it, to "rush in and help the students." The bill needs another Senate vote before moving to the House.
Under the bill, the state Board of Education could prescribe conditions under which the existing local school board could continue to oversee the unaccredited district, or it could set up an alternative governing structure. Those alternatives could include creating a special administrative board, merging the district with neighboring ones or splitting the district into several new ones.
Senators passed a similar bill last year, but it failed to come to a final vote in the House because of political jockeying between the two chambers and a desire by House leaders to push for broader changes to the state's education system. Since then, some of the leadership in the two chambers has changed.
On Tuesday, the Senate bill drew support from all of the senators from the Kansas City area.
Sen. Jason Holsman, a former social studies teacher in the Kansas City School District, said the local board is composed of "good, decent, caring people." He said the district was failing for a variety of socioeconomic reasons, including the transient nature of families, many of whom lack two parents in the household, poverty that leads to hunger and homes without utilities, and a lack of parental involvement.
"This bill is a means to an end for significant change in the short run, but it's not going to address the inherent problems with failure," said Holsman, D-Kansas City. He added: "I do think it's time for a change."