• Ex-charter students swell St. Louis, KC enrollment

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    KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Enrollment has swelled in unaccredited St. Louis and Kansas City public schools as about 5,000 students from shuttered charter schools find a new place to get an education.

    Years of declining enrollment, spurred by families moving to the suburbs or enrolling child in private, parochial or charter schools, meant the two districts saw less money from the state, which forced deep budget cuts. The Kansas City district had to close nearly half of its buildings before the 2010-11 academic year to avoid bankruptcy.

    But when classes began Monday, the St. Louis district had 20,029 students, up about 6 percent from last year's first-day enrollment of 18,841. And in Kansas City, the district's first day count was nearly 1,000 students higher than last year, and officials projected that K-12 enrollment will hit 18,200, up about 15 percent from last year's 15,826 students.

    Several academically struggling charter schools that had been run by Virginia-based management company Imagine Schools closed after classes ended in the spring. St. Louis' six Imagine-run campuses had 3,500 students when they were ordered to close, and Kansas City's only Imagine-run school had about 1,100 students.

    In addition, this year also saw the closure of the non-Imagine Urban Community Leadership Academy, which served about 230 students in Kansas City.

    The enrollment uptick comes even as lawyers continue to argue over a state statute that allows students to transfer from unaccredited to accredited school districts. So far, students in unaccredited school systems aren't being allowed to use the law to transfer while the litigation continues.

    If the courts ultimately force the districts to allow the transfers, attorneys have predicated a large number of students leaving the Kansas City and St. Louis districts.

    Both districts are working hard to regain partial accreditation, which would make them no longer subject to the transfer law. Kansas City's loss of accreditation took effect in January, and St. Louis lost its in 2007.

    Recently released state evaluations showed both districts made gains last year, and if the gains continue, St. Louis could be in a position to regain partial accreditation as soon as next year. Kansas City needs to make more progress before that could be a possibility.

    And it's unclear how the inclusion of the Imagine students would affect that, given that their test scores were among the lowest in the state.

    The St. Louis district has asked the state to exclude test scores from former Imagine students for the next three years. District spokesman Patrick Wallace said State Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro is waiting to make a decision.

    The St. Louis district worked hard to lure the former Imagine students, opening three schools specifically for them and hiring many staff members from the former schools. By Wednesday, those three schools had 1,413 students, up from 1,120 on Monday. District-wide, enrollment spiked by 3,000 students in the first three days.

    Wallace said staff spent much of the summer preparing for the influx.

    "It makes it interesting," he said, noting that more students attended the Imagine charter schools than a typical Missouri school district contains.

    One concern that has been raised is that the former Imagine schools didn't do a good job aligning their curriculum with the state's curriculum, meaning students weren't learning what they needed to know, Wallace said.

    "If things aren't taught how are they going to do well on their tests?" Wallace asked. "We look at it as students are students. It doesn't mean they can't perform."