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The State Of Education In Kansas City In 2020

Elle Moxley
Third grade teacher Felicia Bowles explains a lesson in her classroom at Pitcher Elementary in the Kansas City Public Schools.

The KCUR news staff presents the State of Kansas City series as a look ahead to 2020 on topics of importance to the region. Find the State of Kansas City report on other topics in the series as they are published each weekday, Jan. 6–Jan. 20. Follow coverage on these topics at KCUR.org and on 89.3 FM throughout the year.

Kansas City’s complex racial history is still defining how kids are educated in 2020. That includes factors far outside of classrooms, where housing instability, violence in communities and childhood trauma all have profound effects on schools and students.

Schools across metro Kansas City are increasingly diverse, but students of color still struggle. They’re more likely to attend highly segregated schools and less likely to be taught by educators who look like them. Even in affluent suburban districts where most families are middle class – and even when controlling for poverty – gaps in achievement persist at every grade and in every content area.

This year, KCUR will dive deep into the out-of-school factors that determine how children show up to learn. We’ll be there when education issues divide communities. And we’ll work with our partners at St. Louis Public Radio and the Kansas News Service to bring you the latest school news from both statehouses.


If you have kids, you want as much information as possible to make decisions about their education, and if you don’t, you understand that what’s happening in schools now will shape our city for years to come. That’s why KCUR’s coverage of schools and students explains the societal impact of educational inequities and explores how policies play out in the classroom. We’ll help you make sense of a frustratingly complex system where education quality often depends on how well parents can navigate their options.


  • Shawnee Mission teachers are still without a contract. Although the district has the highest average salary in the state of Kansas, secondary teachers say they’re teaching more classes than their colleagues in other districts, and they’re constantly stressed. They want the district to put more of the $9.7 million it got from the state to make up for years of shortchanging schools into salaries and benefits. The district says to meet the teachers union’s demands, it would have to dip into reserves.
  • Parents of color in Lee’s Summit are frustrated that none of the superintendent candidates announced last month are educators of color. The district’s first black superintendent, Dennis Carpenter, left in July after clashing repeatedly with the school board over diversity training. Lee’s Summit is one of the most affluent suburbs in the state, and more families of color are moving there for the great schools. So while the city of Lee’s Summit is 85.5% white, a quarter of the district’s students are nonwhite.

Credit Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Charter school advocates want Missouri lawmakers to fix the school funding formula so charters get their share of local property tax revenue.

  • Now that nearly half of all public school students living within the Kansas City Public Schools boundaries attend charter schools, state funding hasn’t kept pace with charters’ explosive growth. KCPS agreed to pay charters $2.1 million last month, but charter advocates want a permanent fix. They lost their best advocate in the statehouse, though, when Rep. Rebecca Roeber, R-Lee’s Summit, died last summer.
  • According to a recent Missouri State Teachers Association survey, 80% of educators have witnessed or experienced student violence at school. Now the state board wants lawmakers to put together a joint interim committee to study the issue. School safety is of national concern right now, especially as Parkland, Florida, school shooting defendant Nikolas Cruz goes to trial. Cruz had well-documented emotional and behavioral problems, and the school district may have mishandled his requests for special education services.
  • The Kansas Board of Regents plans to establish new goals for the state’s public universities and colleges this year. The board set ambitious targets in 2010 to get more students to college by the end of the decade. Although high school graduation rates went up slightly, the number of students entering four-year Kansas colleges and universities hardly changed, and community college enrollment actually declined.  In 2018, the state awarded 8,000 fewer degrees than were needed to meet workforce demands


36.8: percent of the Kansas City metro’s school-age population that’s nonwhite
$400 million: how much it would cost to give Missouri teachers a raise under a Department of Elementary and Secondary Education plan to boost educator pay
60: percent of Kansans the Board of Regents hoped would have certificates or degrees by 2020


In education, the names you should really know are usually working behind the scenes to make change. Here are four of the newsmakers KCUR expects to cover in 2020.

Credit Courtesy LaShawn Walker

LaShawn Walker
Founder, Suburban Balance

Walker and other black parents formed Suburban Balance six years ago as a support network for families of color living in the suburbs. Most of them moved to suburbs like Lee’s Summit so their kids could attend great schools, and they’re committed to making sure the district stays the course on the equity and inclusion work former superintendent Dennis Carpenter started.

“Lee’s Summit is a great school district filled with some of the best teachers in the country,” Walker wrote in an email, a few days after the district announced an all-white slate of candidates for superintendent. “We want to see all students achieve to their highest potential, and we know ... that seeing diverse teachers can help contribute to that. Statistics show that having one black teacher in elementary school, not only makes children more likely to graduate high school, it also makes them significantly more likely to enroll in college.”

Credit Courtesy Doug Thaman

Doug Thaman
Executive Director, Missouri Charter Public School Association

Expect to hear Thaman’s name a lot if a charter school funding fix starts to move in the Missouri statehouse. The executive director of the Missouri Charter Public Schools Association, he’s one of the most outspoken proponents for charter schools in the state, and he’s been trying to sound the alarm on the charter school funding “cliff” for several years now.

“There's going to be that pinch point, where it's going to impact and they're going to have to make hard decisions around programming instruction and whether they can continue to sustain themselves,” Thaman told St. Louis Public Radio last month

Credit Courtesy Kansas City Public Schools

Charnissa Holliday-Scott
Director of Educational Systems, Kansas City Public Schools

Her title might be clunky, but Holliday-Scott’s role represents an important shift in how KCPS interacts with charter schools. In the past, the district competed with charter schools for students and resources, and there wasn’t much interest in collaboration. Now KCPS has outlined a process for working with charters and community groups and hired Holliday-Scott to oversee it. An attorney, Holliday-Scott represented several charter schools before joining the district in the spring, and she’s on the board of the Missouri Charter Public School Association. Her connections in the charter community could be the key to compromise if state lawmakers take on school funding.

Credit Courtesy Edgar Palacios

Edgar Palacios 
President & CEO, Latinx Education Collaborative

The Latino population has grown by 38% in the last decade, and it’s not just the Kansas City, Missouri, and Kansas City, Kansas, public schools that are educating more Latino students. In fact, Belton, Fort Osage, Independence, North Kansas City, Olathe and Shawnee Mission all educate more Hispanic students than black students. But there are very few Latino educators.

Enter Palacios. He formed the Latinx Education Collaborative to recruit and retain more educators of color.

“I always get push back. ‘Whoa, you’re trying to segregate the schools. Latino students with Latino teachers,’” Palacios told KCUR in September. “No, I’m just advocating for one more in every building.”


Jan. 9: Fact-finding hearing in Shawnee Mission, where contract negotiations with teachers are at an impasse.

Jan. 23: Lee’s Summit school board expected to name the district’s new superintendent.

April 1: All households will have received an invitation to participate in the 2020 Census, which will determine federal funding for special education, teacher training, school lunch programs and after-school care.

April 7: School board elections in most Missouri school districts.

Aug. 24: The soonest Missouri students can go back to class, as a new state law prohibiting schools from starting more than two weeks before Labor Day goes into effect. 

The Kansas News Service's Celia Llopis-Jepson also contributed to this report.

Elle Moxley covers education for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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