KCUR 89.3 covers education issues across the Kansas City region and in Kansas and Missouri. 

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Sam Zeff / KCUR

There seems to be a growing tenseness over the future of education in Kansas.

The fight last year over block grant funding was hardball and, at times, ugly.

Teachers felt under the gun and many decided to leave the state.

But educators say the attacks this legislative session feel particularly bitter and contentious

You could feel it in room 112 North in the Kansas Statehouse where the House Education Committee meets.

A student advocacy group wants to reform how Missouri awards scholarships to top-performing students.

Right now any student who scores a 31 or higher on the ACT and stays in-state for college is eligible for a Bright Flight Scholarship worth about $3,000.

But Faith Sandler with St. Louis Graduates says these scholarships are being disproportionately awarded to students whose families can afford to pay for college.

Shawnee Mission North

It seems Kansas always manages to resurrect an education controversy from its past.

School finance is always a battle, but another old issue that many thought was settled — district consolidation — is back.

The House Education Committee Wednesday will debate a plan that would cut the number of school districts in Kansas in half — from 286 to 132.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Three hugely controversial bills will dominate the Kansas House Education Committee starting Monday afternoon with the crescendo building to Wednesday. That's when legislators will debate a measure that would consolidate school districts in the state, cutting the number by more than half.

Cody Newill / KCUR 89.3

Tackling some of the biggest problems in Kansas City area schools is no easy task, but that's exactly what more than 100 participants with the Lean Lab's "ReversED" event set out to do this weekend.

The Lean Lab started in October 2013, acting as an incubator for community members to pitch educational solutions to area schools.

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is asking for an additional $2.5 million for the A+ Scholarship Program, which lets students attend community college for free.

Nixon visited Metropolitan Community College’s Penn Valley campus Wednesday to meet with students who are using the scholarships to pay for school.

“I won’t even have to work a year to pay off my debt,” Marshall Morris, a student in the electric utility lineman program, said.

He told the governor he probably wouldn’t have gone to college without the A+ program.

Crossroads Academy

Dean Johnson, the executive director of the successful K-8 charter school, Crossroads Academy, in downtown Kansas City, says the most common question he gets from parents is: when are you going to open a high school?

Now, he has an answer. 

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster is suing shuttered Kansas City charter school Hope Academy to the tune of $3.7 million.

An audit released last month found the school grossly overstated its daily attendance, resulting in millions of dollars in overpayments from the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Hope Academy claimed 97 percent attendance. But only about a third of students ever showed up for class.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Kansas City Public Schools officials announced the district's new superintendent Wednesday.

Mark Bedell has been an assistant superintendent in the Baltimore County District for the past four years. He began his career in Houston.

He beat out Ron Taylor, the superintendent in the Willingboro, New Jersey, district.

Kansas Board of Regents

Although some tried to stop it and many don’t like the idea, the Kansas Board of Regents is expected to approve a new conceal-and-carry weapons policy at its regular meeting Wednesday.

As it now stands, come July 1, 2017 anyone will be able to carry a gun on a public school campus in Kansas.

But the vast majority of faculty and staff oppose the change.

Courtesy photo / Kansas City Public Schools

Kansas City Public Schools is one step closer  to picking a new superintendent.

KCPS board chairman Jon Hile says the board met behind closed doors for 90 minutes Monday and reviewed feedback from last week’s forum where the two finalists each answered questions for an hour.

Hile says to expect an announcement no later than Wednesday.

"I expect to have something more in the next 24 to 48 hours," he says.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Kansas City Public Schools didn't know what kind of crowd would come out to meet the two finalists for the top job in the district. Just how much interest would there be?

Kansas Supreme Court

As the Kansas Legislature begins work, there was a 90-page document filed with the state Supreme Court Tuesday that reminds lawmakers just how difficult their task will be in formulating a new budget.

Courtesy photos

Kansas City Public Schools have reached to the East Coast for the two finalists for its top job.

Both are men, both are African American and both have urban district administrative experience.

Ronald Taylor is the superintendent in the Willingboro, New Jersey, district in the Philadelphia suburbs. Willingboro is a small district, just 4,300 students and seven schools.

Before Willingboro, Taylor also worked in Washington D.C., Boston and Newark, New Jersey.

Sam Zeff / KCUR 89.3

By next school year, dozens of students in the North Kansas City School District will finally have a somewhat safer way to walk to school.

Students who live within blocks of Maplewood Elementary School on North Freemont Avenue have been bused to school for years because the district deemed the walk too dangerous.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The hearing room in the Kansas Statehouse was packed with educators, lawmakers and lobbyists, all gathered to watch the fight over an interim committee report that surprised even the closest watchers of the process.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

An interim joint Kansas legislative committee has issued a report short on specifics but long on suggestions that could fundamentally change how education is funded and delivered in the state.

Elle Moxley / KCUR

Teacher pay in Missouri continues to fall short of the national average, according to a report the Missouri State Teachers Association released Monday.

“For yet another year, we’re still lagging behind 41 states,” says MSTA spokeswoman Aurora Meyer. “Missouri is ranked 42nd nationwide for average classroom teacher salary. That translates to $8,896 less dollars than the national average per year in teacher’s pockets.”

Stephen Koranda / Kansas Public Radio

A special joint interim legislative committee has been holding hearings on it, and many Kansas educators would say for the New Year all they want is a new school funding formula.

But the chairman of the state House Education Committee says he doesn't see a replacement for the current block grant funding scheme passing this legislative session. "But in reality, does anyone really think it'll be done by the end of session this year? I don't think so," says Rep. Ron Highland, a conservative Republican from Wamego.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

Parents will soon meet the two finalists for the top job in the Kansas City Public Schools.

The district late Friday announced two forums scheduled for Jan. 14 at Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts. Each candidate will be available for an hour to the public and the media.

The names of the finalists have not been released, but both are from out of town. The district's  interim superintendent, Al Tunis, is not in the running. The district says the names will be released 48 hours before the public forums.

Courtesy Robert DePalma

While the Tyrannosaurus rex was at the top of the food chain 66 million years ago, a team of researchers linked to the University of Kansas discovered a giant, fearsome raptor that may have given T. rex a run for its money.

Dakotaraptor, as it’s called, was 17-feet long, six-feet tall at the hips and weighed hundreds of pounds. With a 9.5-inch razor-sharp retractable claw likely used to gut or latch onto prey, it was an unbeatable hunter.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The Kansas City Public School District has narrowed its list of superintendent candidates and we may find out more about the search at Wednesday's meeting.

Board Chairman Jon Hile would not say exactly how many finalists are in the running but many believe there are only two – and current interim Superintendent Al Tunis is not among them. Both candidates are believed to be from out of town.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The Kansas legislative session is still a few weeks away and already lawmakers are grappling with what to do about school funding.

A special committee set up to make recommendations on a new formula wanted to know if spending more money leads to better classroom achievement.

At a hearing Wednesday lawmakers heard yes from Mark Tallman, associate executive director of the Kansas Association of School Boards. He said KASB research not only shows the more you spend the better the outcomes, but Kansas is one of the most efficient states in the country.

Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR

We talk a lot about community and neighborhoods here at KCUR 89.3, so when it came to our attention that some Kansas City third-graders were investigating the same subjects, it piqued our interest. 

Miss Allie Heemstra and Mrs. Valerie Diebel’s classes at the Crossroads Academy (a public charter school in downtown Kansas City, Missouri) have studied history, visited 10 neighborhoods from Waldo to Pendleton Heights, talked to “change-makers” and read about community movements.

Credit Patrick McKay / Flickr -- CC

The U.S. Supreme Court Monday refused to hear the appeal of a group of Shawnee Mission parents who want limits lifted on how much local school districts can raise in local taxes.

However, this is not the end of the court case.

The high court refused the case, called Petrella, without comment.

The parents sued the state five years ago arguing that if patrons want to tax themselves more to pay for schools, the state shouldn’t be allowed to stop them. Kansas law caps how much local school districts can spend in local property taxes.

Kyle Palmer / KCUR 89.3

Public schools often go to great lengths to account for their students.

For RosaLinda Aviles, an attendance and dropout specialist for Kansas City Public Schools, it’s her primary duty.

Based at Northeast High School, she helps oversee a nine-school zone. If a student has been absent for several days, teachers will notify her. She and a district social worker then will try to intervene.

"Often the teachers will know a lot more about what's going, so that's helpful," Aviles says. "We then can call, send a letter, or do a home visit."

A state audit charges the now-closed Hope Academy charter school in Kansas City of grossly overstating its attendance and receiving millions of dollars in excess state aid.

The audit says attendance data submitted to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in 2012-13 and 2013-14 "was incomplete and inaccurate and significantly overstated actual attendance." That finding wasn't a surprise. DESE did a surprise visit to the school on Paseo in November 2013 and quickly discovered the attendance problem.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

It's been relatively quiet recently in the scandal plagued St. Joseph School District. But that changed Thursday when the district got word from the state that many of its federal grants will be audited.

The district says it received the notice from the Department of Elementary and Secondary (DESE).

"Your district has been identified due to possible fiscal compliance issues with federal grants," according to the letter from DESE sent to Superintendent Robert Newhart.

Elle Moxley / KCUR

Just 49 percent of third graders in Kansas City are reading proficiently.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is that’s a dramatic improvement from just a few years ago, when only a third of them were reading at or above grade level. As research mounts that third grade is a benchmark for future success, literacy has become a rally cry for elected leaders and community groups trying to turn around Kansas City’s public schools.

At Garfield Elementary in the Historic Northeast, AmeriCorps volunteers meet daily with reluctant third grade readers.

Sam Zeff / KCUR

The Missouri State Board of Education acted Tuesday on two major pieces of education business in the Kansas City.

First, the Board decided to keep the Kansas City district and the Hickman Mills School District provisionally accredited. Both districts had lobbied the state hard to move up to full accreditation, but both fell below expectations on the last round the state standardized tests. Because the test and the way it was given changed from the previous year, the state had already decided to "hold harmless" districts that did not meet standards.