NPR logo Kansas City Schools' Problems Have Been Years In The Making


Kansas City Schools' Problems Have Been Years In The Making

K.C. schools chief John Covington. (Photo by Ed Zurga/AP) hide caption

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(Photo by Ed Zurga/AP)

K.C. schools chief John Covington.

(Photo by Ed Zurga/AP)

The headlines are stunning:

— "Mass School Closures Approved In Kansas City." (Associated Press)

— "Kansas City Board OKs Plan To Close Nearly Half Its Schools." (CNN)

— "Kansas City: Going From 61 Schools To 32 To Avoid Bankruptcy." (Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Get Schooled blog)

As this piece in the Kansas City Star makes clear, though, the troubles that led to last night's 5-4 vote by the city's school board to close the schools at the end of this academic year have been building for years:

"Enrollment had been declining steadily since the late 1960s, when white flight led to civil rights lawsuits and the protracted federal desegregation order. Court-ordered construction bonds launched a $500 million renovation program across the district in the early 1990s. The district built new schools — state-of-the-art buildings intended to stop the migration and even bring families back. But families with children — white and black — continued to leave. The district entered the new century with beautiful but vastly underused schools, and many other aging buildings."

The district now has 18,000 students. School officials say about 40% of its available seats are vacant at elementary schools, about 60% are vacant in middle schools and more than 60% are vacant in the high schools.

The New York Times adds this:

"For decades, national education experts said, the Kansas City schools had not responded to changes in demographics that would have spared them such a drastic one-time cut. 'Otherwise, this whole scenario would not be as wrenching as it now appears to be,' Michael Casserly, the executive director of The Council of the Great City Schools, a research and advocacy organization, said in a telephone interview."

But now, says Kansas City School Superintendent John Covington, there's no choice but to make these painful cuts. They are "unquestionably the right thing to do," he said today.

KMBC-TV has video of Covington talking about the cuts posted here. "No one likes closing schools," he said. "It's hard."