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Kansas City School Ends 'First-Come, First-Served' Enrollment In Pursuit Of Something More Fair

Ray Weikal/Kansas City Public Schools
Students read at Holliday Montessori, one of the Kansas City Public Schools that usually has a waitlist. Families can begin enrolling for the 2021-22 school year on Monday.

Kansas City Public Schools parents won’t need to speed register their kids when enrollment opens Monday morning for next school year.

In the past, that was the only way to guarantee a seat at a preferred school.

“First come, first served is really not an equitable model,” said David Rand, the executive director of research and accountability for KCPS. “Not everyone has the means to not be working or to be able to allocate that time exactly when the enrollment window opens.”

Instead, all families who enroll before Feb. 15, 2021, will be entered into a lottery for admission to their preferred school.

“It doesn't matter if you fill out the application at 8 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 14 or 8 p.m., or if you fill it out on Jan. 31. As long as you get your application submitted by Feb. 15, you will have the same opportunity and the same chance of securing a seat in that school as any other family,” Rand said.

Students must meet the admission requirements for their preferred school to be entered in the lottery. Several KCPS schools have waitlists every year, including Lincoln Middle School, Lincoln High School and the two Montessori programs, Border Star and Holliday.

Students who don’t get their first choice will be offered a seat at another KCPS school.

KCPS has also streamlined the application process so families won’t need to provide any enrollment documentation until spring, after they’ve been offered a seat. Before, parents had to have all their paperwork — birth certificate, immunization record, photo ID, transcripts and proof of residency — just to apply.

That made it hard for families with fewer resources to enroll early enough to get seats at their preferred schools, Rand said.

Ray Weikal/Kansas City Public Schools
Students perform at Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts, one of the Kansas City Public Schools that requires an application. Next year, KCPS students will be admitted via a lottery if there aren't enough seats at a school.

Many Kansas City-area charter schools also have a two-step enrollment process. Families apply to multiple schools using a common application, SchoolAppKC, then enroll at a school where they are accepted.

Leslie Kohlmeyer is the director of SchoolAppKC for Show Me KC Schools, a nonprofit that helps families find schools.

“We are super excited about the new system KCPS is rolling out because it's a fair, equitable, transparent system that works for kids and parents. We are always so happy to partner with such a great organization in getting families the access they need and deserve, and we think this is a monumental step in that direction,” Kohlmeyer wrote in an email.

This year, private school Cristo Rey is also using SchoolAppKC for admissions, Kohlmeyer said. She is urging parents to start thinking about the 2021-22 school year even though no one knows exactly what it will look like with COVID-19.

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