Charter schools in Kansas City, Part 2: KCPS plans to reverse declining enrollment trend

Loss of KCPS students means loss of money

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Cydney Guein is a sophomore at Hogan Prep Academy, a charter school within the Kansas City Public Schools boundaries.

While she was a KCPS middle school student Guein struggled with attention deficit disorder (ADD). Her mother, Stephanie Ross, said she tried twice to get her daughter help with an individualized education program, or IEP.

Charter Schools in Kansas City, Part 1: Charter school growth cuts into KCPS enrollment

When unsuccessful, she moved Guein to Hogan Prep, where she's now an honor roll student and playing varsity volleyball.

"When I was going to the school before here, they really didn't want to help out, they looked at me as a bad student," Guein said.

"We were headed down kind of a dark road that was turned around quickly as soon as we chose a good school," Ross said.

KCPS Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell acknowledges that school system has had decades of problems.

"You have a school system, in my mind, that from a community standpoint, there were failures on all fronts," he said.

Bedell said he's on a mission to reverse some very troubling trends.

Over the last roughly 20 years, KCPS enrollment has plummeted while charter schools are growing.

In that same time frame, the overall public student population in KCMO, with KCPS and charters combined, has dropped by about 12,000 students.

Demographic trends within KCPS boundaries since 1980

Also in the last 20 years, the overall school aged population in KCMO has dropped nearly 30 percent.

The largest decline has been among African American school aged children, a decrease of more than 40 percent since 2000.

"It's because people have options and they have choices and our job as an educational institution is to do a better job of marketing," Bedell said.

When students leave, state and local money follows them, which means a financial loss for KCPS.

One area this is impacting is KCPS state classroom funding.

In 2010 it was more than $44 million.

Now in 2017, that number is about $3.7 million -- a more than $40 million drop.

Bedell said the result is tough decisions and smaller schools with less opportunity.

"These kids aren't getting a real experience. I can't offer a lot with a high school that has 500 kids," he said.

"If you're a child living in the Kansas City Public School boundaries, you have about 30 kindergarten options," said Tricia Johnson, Show Me KC Schools executive director.

Show Me KC Schools is an organization that helps Kansas City families find the right school for their children.

Show Me KC Schools, the Kansas City Public Library and the office of the mayor will be putting on a fair at the Central Library at 14 West 10th St on Saturday.

That fair will feature information on more than 50 district, charter, private and parochial schools within KCPS boundaries.

"We know there are some great KCPS schools and there are some great charter schools, and we just want parents to find that right fit," Johnson said.

One of the best performing schools in the KCPS system -- with all kinds of awards to show for it -- is Lincoln College Prep Academy.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, state records show almost 99 percent of high school students there graduated and almost 89 percent of last year's seniors are now in college.

A critical state number for KCPS, called the annual performance review (APR), is also trending in the right direction.

It has moved up to around 70 percent, the minimum score needed for accreditation, which the school system has conditionally received pending further results.

KCPS is focusing on better academics, customer service and teacher/principal competency.

Bedell said he has developed a good relationship with the teachers' union leader to work towards those goals.

"If we're not performing, well we have to close more schools, that impacts her membership," he said.

Bedell said plans for an empowerment institute to get parents more engaged, as well as more early childhood education for 4-year-olds are key to keeping a positive trend for KCPS.

Another goal is growing from the now roughly 14,000 KCPS students to 20,000 within 3 to 4 years.

"We have an instructional framework in place, we have a strategic plan, we are going to be a force to be reckoned with," Bedell said.

As for the decline in KCPS money, Bedell said the district is looking at an increase in the property tax rate and issuing bonds to help repair or replace crumbling schools.

KCPS hasn't issued new bonds or gone to voters for a tax increase in five decades.


Andy Alcock is an investigative reporter for 41 Action News. See his full report on 41 Action News at 10 p.m.

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