By: Leslie Kohlmeyer, Director of SchoolAppKC

We first have to understand why waitlists are needed at all. Prior to charter schools being opened, the normal process for families and kids to apply to school would have all gone through the district. A family would have applied either to a “neighborhood school” or a “Signature or Magnet school.” Students are always guaranteed a seat at your neighborhood school, and for the Magnet or Signature programs, those students were taken on a first-come-first-served basis. There was no need for a waitlist or lotteries. 

As charter schools came onto the scene in the 90’s, these schools tended to be smaller and had fewer seats available. When a school receives more applicants than they have seats available that will necessitate a lottery. For example, if a school has 200 applications and only 150 seats, they hold a public lottery and make offers for those seats based on the results of that lottery.

It’s important to understand the mechanism of a school lottery. In some people’s minds, there might be a person who stands over a bingo hopper and pulls out balls with numbers on them or a magic man with names in a hat. That’s not how the system works; it’s actually much simpler. 

When a student applies to any school, the student’s name is entered into a computer program. At the time of the lottery, a simple button is pushed, and a computer program chooses names that are randomly generated. It takes less than 20 seconds for the whole thing to be completed. Once the list has generated, an admin then selects the “make an offer” option and an offer is emailed and or texted to the phone number on file. 

Per charter school legislation, each school is allowed to design its own rules for its lottery. There are only a few reasons that a child might receive what is called a “preference” in the lottery.

  • Sibling preference (you have a brother or sister who also goes or went to this school)
  • Parent Employee (your parent or guardian is employed by the school)
  • Zip Code Preference (you live in a zip code that is designated as a priority for the school)
  • Geographic Preference (you live or work within a certain geographic area immediately surrounding the school)

A waitlist is simply a part of the lottery function. When a school has more applicants than seats available, a lottery is performed. 

For example, if a school has 200 applicants and only 150 seats when the lottery is performed, the computer program recognizes the number of applicants and orders those applicants to be made “offers” according to how many seats the school has available (in this example, 150 offers to students would be made). The remaining applicants (in this example 50 students) are placed on a waitlist. If any of the first 150 students who were made offers turn down their offer, an offer is made to the next student in waitlist order.  Families can log in to the application system at any time to see where they are on the waitlist.

 If a family submits an application after the lottery is performed, they are made an offer on a first-come-first-served basis. If there is a waitlist, the student is placed on the waitlist in the order that their application was received. 

If the student receives a low waitlist number, the chances that you will receive an offer before the beginning of the school year are very good. If you have a very high number, you may want to apply to another school; it’s always good to have a backup plan.

Applying to schools should be fairly easy, we can’t promise that it will be entirely stress-free but we do hope that this information has taken some of the guesswork out of the process.