By: Danielle Dispenza, SMKCS School Navigator

When I was a kid, I just went to school. My address within a school district determined what schools I attended Kindergarten through 12 grade. These schools are oftentimes located close to where a student lives, determined by a neighborhood. This type of public school system can be referred to as “traditional” or a “feeder school system,” meaning that elementary schools feed into a middle school then high school creating a predetermined path for students to matriculate through Kindergarten to 12th grade. 

A school choice landscape

Within the Kansas City Public School boundaries (in Kansas City, MO), we have a school choice system; this means, like many other cities nationwide, there are multiple school types that parents (or guardians) can choose for their students to attend. Within the Kansas City Public School boundaries, there are three types of public schools parents can choose to send their students to–neighborhood, signature, and charter schools. 

Neighborhood schools are exactly what they sound like – a school that serves the surrounding neighborhood; or a smaller boundary within the larger school district boundary. Signature schools have a specialized curriculum like language immersion, Montessori, or college prep. They are run and operated by the school district, and students can attend from all over the district. Some signature schools have admissions requirements, such as a student’s GPA and attendance records or an audition. Charter Schools are tuition-free public schools, independent of the school district, that are equally open to all students who live within a geographic area. In the state of Missouri, charter schools can only operate within the Kansas City and St.Louis public school districts. Within KCPS we currently have 20 charter school operators and all of these are non-profit. This can differ from one state to another.

How do I know where to send my student?

With all of these options, how do you determine what school your student will attend? In a school choice school system, that decision is up to the parent. Families of incoming kindergarteners have 25 different school options! Students are always guaranteed a seat at their neighborhood school but in order to attend a signature or charter school, the student needs to be applied. Signature and charter schools generally have limited seats available based on the size of the building they occupy. For example, if they serve students in K-6th grade and the building accommodates two classrooms per grade level, they can take approximately 25 students per class. If more than 50 families apply for kindergarten seats, the school will hold a lottery to fill the 50 seats and create a waitlist for the remaining applicants. 

It’s application season!

It’s currently school application season! Part of living in a school choice landscape is knowing how and when to apply to schools. Seats can be limited at signature and charter schools, so schools have open application time frames prior to the start of the next school year. This allows all families to apply that are interested and makes the lottery process, if necessary, as equitable as possible. 

Historically, to say the application process was difficult for families is an understatement.  Different schools had different timeframes and deadlines, some did not have lotteries but were first-come, first-serve; while some accepted applications online and others in person during school hours. 

Show Me KC Schools was created, in part, to help solve this confusing application process. As an organization created by parents for parents, Show Me KC Schools has spent the past eight years advocating for parents in the education landscape. 

Current application deadlines and platforms

Currently, there are two platforms families can use to apply their students to a school. To apply for signature schools, applications go to KCPS at EnrollKC.org, the deadline to apply for the 2021-2022 school year is February 15, 2021. For 18 of the 20 charter schools, applications go through SchoolAppKC.org and the deadline to apply is February 22nd. These applications are super easy and can be done from your phone, the most important part is getting them submitted BEFORE the deadlines so you can be included in a potential lottery!