Laura Bauer and Judy Thomas

EWA Announces the 2021 Winners of the Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting

EWA is pleased to announce the 2021 winners of the grand prize who were selected from all categories. 

Photo Credit: James Minichello, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

Orlando, FL (July 25, 2022) – The Education Writers Association is delighted to honor Laura Bauer and Judy Thomas of The Kansas City Star with the top prize in the 2021 National Awards for Education Reporting.

This year’s Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting goes to Bauer and Thomas for “Unlicensed and Under the Radar,” which investigated a giant loophole in Missouri laws that allowed private residential schools to operate unchecked amid serious alleged abuse of the resident students.

The package won the public service award in the larger newsroom category in the 2021 National Awards for Education Reporting and was one of 14 first-prize winners considered for the honor by a prestigious panel of judges.

The EWA grand prize, named for the late New York Times education editor Fred M. Hechinger, carries a cash award of $10,000.

“The Star’s coverage epitomizes the sort of education reporting that the EWA awards program exists to honor — stories that make a genuine difference in their communities,” said Caroline Hendrie, EWA’s executive director.

One judge said of The Star’s coverage that “reading this series left me filled with emotions: outrage that boarding schools that called themselves Christian could be free to abuse and destroy students, and relieved that the Kansas City Star put a spotlight on the conditions and forced the state and other authorities to take action. The ultimate in accountability and public service.”

Another contest judge called the entry, “Vital accountability reporting that will protect future students from this kind of mistreatment.”

The Star’s stories illustrated the vital role of public service reporting. The Missouri state legislature sprang into action after reading the coverage and allegations from former students in the Star. Legislators held hearings and passed a law that for the first time implements state oversight of these unlicensed schools. After more revelations by the Star, eight individuals connected to two of the schools were charged with committing crimes against children.

The Education Writers Association’s National Awards for Education Reporting advance education journalism by recognizing the field’s very best efforts. The awards aim to:

  • Encourage and inspire more and better education journalism.
  • Underscore the importance of excellent reporting and storytelling as a cornerstone of democracy and education.
  • Highlight and celebrate the work journalists do to make a positive difference in their communities.