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Kansas board plans to deny accreditation to private school getting tax-credit scholarships

 Wade Moore shares the news of the Yass Prize, a half a million dollars to aid the private school.
Carla Eckels
Wade Moore shares the news of the Yass Prize, a half a million dollars to aid the private school.

Kansas education leaders plan to deny accreditation to Urban Preparatory Academy in Wichita, a private school run by Bishop Wade Moore, an outspoken advocate for tax-credit scholarships and other school choice measures. Moore calls the move "politically motivated."

Wichita, Kansas — A Wichita private school that receives thousands each year in tax-credit scholarships through the state has not met requirements to be accredited by the Kansas Department of Education.

A state report says Urban Preparatory Academy, a K-8 private school run by the nondenominational Christian Faith Centre, did not submit a school improvement plan, scores from state assessment tests or other data required for accreditation.

The Kansas Board of Education will vote next month on a recommendation to deny accreditation, which could threaten the school’s ability to accept corporate donations through the state program.

Wichita pastor Wade Moore, an outspoken advocate for programs that allow parents to use state tax dollars to pay for private or home schooling, says the denial is “politically motivated” and that he plans to seek accreditation through the Association of Christian Schools International.

The tax credit program approved by Kansas lawmakers in 2014 requires schools receiving funds to be “accredited by the state board or a national or regional accrediting agency that is recognized by the state board.”

“I’ve done a lot of work in Topeka around policy and school choice, and this was just great timing for them, to try to keep us from moving forward,” Moore said. “So … we’re seeking accreditation somewhere else, and we’ve already began this journey.”

According to a report from the state’s accreditation review council, Urban Preparatory Academy requested accreditation in the spring of 2020 and was granted conditional accreditation that summer.

The review process was delayed because of the pandemic, but over the next three years the school never submitted required information, including students’ performance on state assessments, the report says.

Moore told state officials that “Urban Prep did not have the technology capacity (internet connection, computers) to administer state assessments,” the report says, and he asked the Kansas Department of Education to provide the technology. The state does not provide computers or other testing equipment to private schools.

In May of this year, the review council recommended against accreditation.

Kansas law charges the state Board of Education with the accreditation of schools, a process that means a school has met a defined set of standards. All public schools are required to participate in the accreditation process.

Private schools are not required to participate, but many do. The state currently recognizes 136 accredited non-public schools, including Catholic schools in the Wichita diocese.

“Urban Prep for the first three years … submitted no accreditation documentation of either a quality process or student results and had not met compliance regulations,” the report says.

Moore said Urban Prep students don’t take Kansas assessments in reading, math and other subjects, which are administered to public and many private school students in grades three through eight. They are viewed, particularly by many state lawmakers, as a key measure of student achievement and school quality.

“We do our own assessments. We do online assessments with our students, and we measure progress every month,” Moore said. He said the school uses the MobyMax online education program.

“But we don’t just go on assessments,” he said. “A lot of times with assessments, what happens is that teachers are teaching to a test. … I don’t consider that to be education.”

More than 30 states have private school choice programs that either directly pay students’ tuition at private schools or provide tax credits that encourage businesses or individuals to do so.

Kansas’ tax credit scholarship program, which lets donors fund scholarships to private or religious schools, began in 2014. Early restrictions made it available only to low-income elementary school children attending the 100 lowest-performing schools in the state.

Since then, lawmakers have raised income eligibility for the scholarship to 250% of the federal poverty level, or about $75,000 a year for a family of four. They also increased the tax credit for contributions from 70% to 75%.

During the 2015-16 school year, the first full year of the program, 109 Kansas students were awarded scholarships totaling about $269,000. Last school year, 1,340 students received nearly $4.3 million in scholarships to attend private or religious schools.

The majority of scholarships — about 82% — went to Support for Catholic Schools, a not-for-profit arm of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, and the Catholic Education Foundation, which supports Catholic students in Kansas City, Topeka, Emporia and other parts of the state.

The third largest scholarship granting organization last year was Christian Faith Centre, Inc., which runs Urban Preparatory Academy. Moore said the school has 130 students at two sites — the former Mueller Elementary School near 24th and Hillside, and the Christian Faith Centre campus at Pawnee and Hillside.

Late last year, the school received $500,000 as a finalist for the Yass Prize, a national award that honors new and innovative approaches to education.

Tuition at Urban Prep is $4,500 a year, but “about 99 percent of our students are on scholarship,” Moore said.

Opponents of the tax-credit scholarship program pushed for the accreditation requirement as a way to hold private schools accountable. Moore said he thinks it was intended to thwart school choice efforts by making it harder for upstart private schools.

"Accreditation really counts in high school years, but for kindergarten through eighth grade, it simply says that, 'Hey, I'm an accredited school.' It doesn't mean anything," he said.

Suzanne Perez reports on education for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.

The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KMUW, KCUR, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2023 KMUW | NPR for Wichita. To see more, visit KMUW | NPR for Wichita.

Suzanne Perez
Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news. Before coming to KMUW, she worked at The Wichita Eagle, where she covered schools and a variety of other topics.