St. Louis schools shed ‘unaccredited' stigma after five years

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Missouri Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to let the St. Louis public school district shed its "unaccredited" label, a move that makes it no longer subject to a state law allowing students to transfer to better-performing districts.

Under the vote during the board's meeting in Jefferson City, St. Louis schools will now be considered provisionally accredited. A state-appointed special administrative board is authorized to remain in place through at least June 2014.

"Everyone must acknowledge the need for continued improvement and the stakes involved," Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro said. "There is nothing less than the lives of 25,000 children at stake."

The district, with just under 28,000 students in preschool through 12th grade, was one of four unaccredited districts in the state. It had lost its accreditation in 2007 because of leadership concerns, low academic performance and financial problems so severe that its operating budget repeatedly had shown a negative balance.

Amid the problems, several lawsuits were filed by families seeking to take advantage of a Missouri law requiring unaccredited districts to pay tuition and transportation to send students living within their boundaries to accredited districts nearby. Schools, however, claimed the law was unworkable, setting up a protracted legal battle. While the litigation continued, students haven't been allowed to use the law to transfer.

It is unclear what will happen to the St. Louis litigation, which had the potential to set legal precedence and was being closely watched by families living in the unaccredited Kansas City school district.

The St. Louis district went from meeting three of 14 performance standards in 2009 to meeting six last year and seven this year. One of the performance standards the district met was tied to test scores.

Also, the district this year absorbed most of the 3,500 students displaced by the closure of six charter schools run by Virginia-based Imagine Schools Inc. The Imagine students' test scores were among the lowest in the state, and the district asked the state to exclude their test scores for the next three years. The state hasn't yet ruled on the request.

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