Rebecca HaessigRebecca Haessig is for­mer direc­tor of edu­ca­tion ini­tia­tives at the Kauffman Foundation. Prior to that she devel­oped strat­e­gy and change ini­tia­tives for a con­sult­ing firm in Washington, D.C. She began her career in inter­na­tion­al devel­op­ment, lead­ing pro­grams to strength­en civic orga­ni­za­tions in the Middle East and North Africa. She received her BA from the University of Virginia and an MA in pub­lic pol­i­cy from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. She is the moth­er of a pre-school son and a char­ter school stu­dent in Kansas City, Missouri.

Rebecca does not rep­re­sent Do the Right Thing for Kids, but we respect the rig­or­ous, fact ori­ent­ed basis of her writ­ing and rec­om­mend her ideas for our fol­low­ers’ con­sid­er­a­tion.  Her op-ed piece “Kansas City dis­trict should decen­tral­ize and set the schools free” appeared in the January 19, 2016 issue of the Kansas City Star. We present here her first three blogs on her Set the Schools Free site.  Go to the site to receive future blogs.


What can kinder­garten enroll­ment num­bers tell us about the health of our pub­lic schools sec­tor, and the future of pub­lic edu­ca­tion in our school dis­trict?

A lot.

First, the facts. Below are the kinder­garten enroll­ment num­bers for all pub­lic schools with­in KCPS bound­aries – both KCPS and char­ter – from the 1999–2000 school year (the first year char­ter schools oper­at­ed in Kansas City) through the cur­rent 2015–16 aca­d­e­m­ic year.

Kindergarten Enrollment: KCPS and Charter Schools, 2000 – 2016


A few trends pop out imme­di­ate­ly:

1) There are few­er kinder­garten stu­dents enrolled in our pub­lic schools today – whether KCPS or char­ter – than in 2000. About 20 per­cent few­er. Whether this drop is due to fam­i­lies mov­ing out­side of KCPS bound­aries in search of bet­ter schools or because they’re enrolling their chil­dren in pri­vate schools, the decline is a loss for pub­lic edu­ca­tion in our school dis­trict.

(Note: char­ter schools are pub­lic schools. So when a stu­dent leaves KCPS for a char­ter school, he or she is still in our pub­lic schools sec­tor – a win, over­all, for pub­lic edu­ca­tion in our dis­trict).

2) Kindergarten enroll­ment in KCPS schools has declined by almost half since 2000. In 2000, KCPS enrolled 90% of the over­all kinder­garten mar­ket (2,696 of 3,012 stu­dents). By 2015–2016, KCPS enroll­ment dropped to 57% of the kinder­garten mar­ket (1,404 of 2,461 stu­dents).

3) Kindergarten enroll­ment in the char­ter sec­tor has grown by 200 per­cent since 2000. In 1999–2000, char­ters enrolled 10% of our kinder­garten mar­ket (316 of 3,012 stu­dents). By 2015–16, char­ter enroll­ment had grown to 43% of the mar­ket (1057 of 2,461 stu­dents).

In sum­ma­ry, kinder­garten enroll­ment more or less mir­rors what’s hap­pen­ing with our school dis­trict as a whole: few­er fam­i­lies are choos­ing pub­lic schools. Of those that do, an increas­ing num­ber are attend­ing char­ters.

So what does this mean for our school dis­trict going for­ward?

In my last post, I wrote about kinder­garten being an impor­tant year: it’s the first touch most of us have with the edu­ca­tion sys­tem, the begin­ning of the K-12 pipeline, and the least expen­sive time for a school to acquire a stu­dent.

All of this makes kinder­garten a strate­gic year for school recruit­ment – and a valu­able pre­dic­tor of future enroll­ment trends for our dis­trict as a whole.


Here’s a pic­ture of the kinder­garten enroll­ment data I shared at the begin­ning of this post, this time pro­ject­ing out future kinder­garten enroll­ment based on his­tor­i­cal data.

Without tak­ing a close look at the data it’s easy to assume that KCPS will always be the dom­i­nant oper­a­tor in our pub­lic schools sec­tor; right now, in March 2016, it serves the major­i­ty of kinder­garten stu­dents in our dis­trict.

But KCPS has been pret­ty steadi­ly los­ing kinder­garten enroll­ment over the years. If this trend con­tin­ues it’s quite pos­si­ble that by 2018 there will be more kinder­garten stu­dents enrolled in char­ter schools than in KCPS schools. This isn’t some point off in the dis­tant future – it’s just two years away.

(This 2018 fore­cast is a straight-line pro­jec­tion based on the past 17 years of kinder­garten enroll­ment data, when char­ters began oper­at­ing in our school dis­trict. If we make a pro­jec­tion based on only the last five years of enroll­ment data, start­ing with the 2011–2012 school year, the tip­ping point is pushed out to 2019, about three years away.)

So is kinder­garten enroll­ment giv­ing us a pre­view of what’s to come? Are we head­ing toward an all-char­ter school dis­trict – but by acci­dent, rather than design?

Possibly, yes. But it’s not inevitable.

Because this analy­sis of kinder­garten enroll­ment offers one impor­tant focal point – a very prac­ti­cal and spe­cif­ic lens – through which to eval­u­ate the recent­ly approved KCPS Master Plan.

Given the strate­gic val­ue of kinder­garten as a recruit­ment year – and with four new char­ter ele­men­tary schools open­ing next year with­in our dis­trict bound­aries, cre­at­ing 250+ new kinder­garten seats – does the Master Plan do enough to make KCPS schools com­pet­i­tive in this ear­li­est grade?

Part One: Kindergarten Math, Part I: Kindergarten Matters

Part Three: Kindergarten Math Part III: Raising the Bar

One Response to Kindergarten Math, Part II: The Kindergarten Tipping Point

  1. Betty Crooker says:

    Bravo for this info——” Children are the con­science of our community”—-they have no voice—–the right edu­cat­ed voic­es must be heard.

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