Controversial Plan for KC Schools Due Monday
January 12, 2014

(AP) – A private education reform group is preparing to release its recommendations for turning around Missouri’s unaccredited school systems, even as debate swirls over whether the consultant was appropriately awarded the contract.

The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, or CEE-Trust, (AP) – A private education reform group is preparing to release its recommendations for turning around Missouri’s unaccredited school systems, even as debate swirls over whether the consultant was appropriately awarded the contract.

The Cities for Education Entrepreneurship Trust, or CEE-Trust, has been tasked with coming up with ideas that could be implemented in the Kansas City school district and potentially also in Normandy, Riverview Gardens – both in St. Louis County – or any other districts that become unaccredited. CEE-Trust was started by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit that operates a charter school incubator.

The firm, which will make its draft recommendations to the State Board of Education on Monday afternoon, was awarded the contract last fall as a new state law took effect giving the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education greater powers to intervene in troubled schools. But Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro received criticism from some lawmakers and community organizations after emails raised questions about the bidding process used to select CEE-Trust.

Key among the concerns is that the state initially sought to hire CEE-Trust without putting the project out to bid, according to emails obtained through an open records request by the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity , an interfaith social justice organization also known as MORE2, and provided to The Kansas City Star. After the state board balked at a no-bid contract and other entities were invited to submit bids, CEE-Trust still came out the winner, even though its bid was nearly three times higher than the closest competitor.

MORE2 executive director Lora McDonald said her group was among several that called for the state to pull the plug on the study until contract questions were answered. She said she also has concerns because she believes that the soon-to-be unveiled proposal will recommend the expansion of charter schools in unaccredited districts. She noted that the Kaufman Foundation, one of two foundations bankrolling CEE-Trust’s contract, is a charter backer that has opened its own charter school.

“We have gone through this rabbit hole of creating a few high-quality schools, but, who goes to them?” McDonald asked. “It’s the children whose parents are on top of their game, and those kids are going to get a good education because they have parents who are capable of facilitating that, no matter which school they are in. I think what is left behind is kids whose families have the greatest level of need and the least ability to access the privatization movement.”

Following the Star’s story about the emails, two groups of state lawmakers called last month for investigations, and Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich is considering whether to audit the department. been tasked with coming up with ideas that could be implemented in the Kansas City school district and potentially also in Normandy, Riverview Gardens – both in St. Louis County – or any other districts that become unaccredited. CEE-Trust was started by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based education reform nonprofit that operates a charter school incubator.

The firm, which will make its draft recommendations to the State Board of Education on Monday afternoon, was awarded the contract last fall as a new state law took effect giving the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education greater powers to intervene in troubled schools. But Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro received criticism from some lawmakers and community organizations after emails raised questions about the bidding process used to select CEE-Trust.

Key among the concerns is that the state initially sought to hire CEE-Trust without putting the project out to bid, according to emails obtained through an open records request by the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity , an interfaith social justice organization also known as MORE2, and provided to The Kansas City Star. After the state board balked at a no-bid contract and other entities were invited to submit bids, CEE-Trust still came out the winner, even though its bid was nearly three times higher than the closest competitor.

MORE2 executive director Lora McDonald said her group was among several that called for the state to pull the plug on the study until contract questions were answered. She said she also has concerns because she believes that the soon-to-be unveiled proposal will recommend the expansion of charter schools in unaccredited districts. She noted that the Kaufman Foundation, one of two foundations bankrolling CEE-Trust’s contract, is a charter backer that has opened its own charter school.

“We have gone through this rabbit hole of creating a few high-quality schools, but, who goes to them?” McDonald asked. “It’s the children whose parents are on top of their game, and those kids are going to get a good education because they have parents who are capable of facilitating that, no matter which school they are in. I think what is left behind is kids whose families have the greatest level of need and the least ability to access the privatization movement.”

Following the Star’s story about the emails, two groups of state lawmakers called last month for investigations, and Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich is considering whether to audit the department.

KC School Patents Launch Petition Drive to Halt CEE-Trust Plan
December 19, 2013

A group of Kansas City public school parents and other local reformers want the state Board of Education to block a controversial consulting contract aimed at the local school system.
The group says the plan to hire the Cities for Educational Entrepreneurship (CEE-Trust) to develop a reform plan for the Kansas City schools should be stopped.
They are launching a petition drive they say they will present to the state’s Board of Education.
Their claim is based on a set of e-mails (see previous posts).
Those e-mails show the process of how the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education ( DESE) and Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro arranged for two Kansas City Foundations, the Ewing Kaffman Foundation and the Hall Family Foundation, to pay almost $400,000 for CEE-Trust To evaluate the unaccredited district.
“I worry the the study could turn into the plan,” said Jennifer Wolfsie of the parents advisory panel for the district.
The CEE- Trust plan is expected to come up at the next state Board of Education meeting in January.
Wolfsie was asked if she thought Nicastro wanted to break up the school district.
She said the petition, calling for a halt to the reform study, is their main goal.

Missouri Auditor Asks for DESE Records on KC Student Transfer
December 14, 2013

Post- Dispatch:
Missouri Auditor Thomas Schweich is weighing whether to launch an audit of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in light of recent controversies involving the education commissioner.
Schweich sent a letter to Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro this week stating his office is considering a probe into the very issues that have triggered calls for her resignation from teachers unions, more than a dozen lawmakers and even the St. Louis County Branch of the NAACP.

Schweich is requesting department documents relating to the development of a plan calling for a new statewide district for underperforming schools, which Nicastro is expected to unveil in January. He wants records concerning the process by which the department procured a contract with CEE-Trust — Cities for Educational Entrepreneurship — an Indianapolis-based firm that’s drafting an improvement plan for Kansas City Public Schools. Schweich also has requested any internal and external communications concerning the proposed constitutional amendment that would eliminate teacher tenure.

KC School Lawsuit Accuses Nicastro of Trying to “Break-up” the District
December 13, 2013

The Kansas City School District filed a lawsuit Friday accusing Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the state school Board of trying to break up the unaccredited school system.
The charge is contained in the lawsuit filed by the district in its effort to block the student transfer law from being applied in the troubled school system.
The lawsuit also asks the court to re-classify Kansas City as a provisionally accredited district, removing it from some state sanctions.
Earlier this week, the Missouri Supreme Court upheld the law.
The ruling means the Kansas City district must pay the tuition and transportation costs from any student who wants to flee to an accredited district nearby.
The district is worried the school system could be destabilized by such a move.
The lawsuit says Nicastro and some if the State’s top education officials “covertly” tried to dismantle the public school system and convert it to a set of charter schools.
The lawsuit cites recently released
e-mails.
Those e-mails track the effort to have Missouri enter into an agreement with a school consulting firm called Cities
for Educational Entrepreneurship (CEE-Trust).
The e-mails indicate the state was going to use almost $400,000 in grant money from the Ewing Kauffman Foundation and the Hall Family Foundation to pay for CEE-Trust to evaluate the district and possibly start “opportunity schools”, a phrase the group used to describe the charter schools created by the group in Indianapolis.
The suit says DESE rigged the bidding process to steer the contract to CEE-Trust.
The suit also charges the educational officials deliberately did not re-classify the Kansas City Schools even though the district’s latest Missouri test scores showed the Kansas City schools earned enough points to move from its current unaccredited rating to provisional accreditation.
A change like that would have prevented the Kansas City district from coming under the student transfer laws for unaccredited districts.
There was no comment from DESE Friday.
Commissioner Nicastro, DESE, and the state Board of Education have repeatedly said they are not interested in taking over the district, but only want to help it improve.
The lawsuit and its charges show the quiet, but very tense feud between the troubled district and the state is now breaking open in the courts.
Missouri lawmakers are being urged to revise the state’s student transfer laws.
The head of the Senate Education Committee, Ed Pearce said revising that law should be the top education priority for legislators in 2014.
He, and several other Members have filed bill addressing the 29-year old student transfer law.

KC Lawmakers Ask for Nixon & Koster to Investigate Nicastro, DESE & KC School Reform Plan
December 11, 2013

A group of Kansas City lawmakers, leader by Assistant Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty want the Governor and Attorney General Chris Koster to investigate how a plan to reform the Kansas City school district came into being.
“Commissioner Nicastro’s deceitful and questionable actions, as documented by her own correspondence, raise concerns about her fitness to lead the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,” the group write in a statement developed by McCann Beatty.
Last week, the Kansas City Star reported in a set of e-mails between Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro and her staff, with the Ewing Kauffman Foundation; the Hall Family Foundation and the Center for Educational Entrepreneurship
The e-mails describe how the two foundations would pay for a nearly $400,000 project to transform and reform the unaccredited district.
Critics say the plan is part of an effort to take over and privatize much of the district.
The e-mails suggest the arrangement went forward without much input from KC School Superintendent Stephen Green. The e-mails also indicate Mayor Sly James’ early awareness of the project was limited, too.
Nicastro and DESE deny that.
The Kansas City legislators say Nicastro was not honest with them.
“Commissioner Nicastro has repeatedly assured lawmakers that no decisions had been made regarding the future of the district, but that apparently is not the case,” the statement reads.
The lust of lawmakers includes many, but not all Kansas City Democratic lawmakers.
Some lawmakers hoped the statement would call for Nicastro to resign as Education Commissioner.
Other lawmakers that signed the statement include St. Sen Kiki Curls; Representatives Randy Dunn (23rd);Brandon Ellington (19th);Jeremy La Faver (25th);Bonnaye Mims (27th);Judy Morgan (24th); John Rizzo (19th).
There is a bill filed in the State Senate that would permit the Senate to be able to dismiss the Education Commissioner with a 2/3rds vote.
Currently, Missouri’s Education Commission is one of two executive posts not appointed by the Governor.
The Commissioner is hired by the state board of education.
The head of the state department of transporting is also appointed by the MoDOT commission.
Earlier this week, Governor Jay Nixon told reporters he thought it might be appropriate to evaluate Nicastro.