The NOLA Public Schools district is delaying the city’s early childhood education lottery to ensure families can complete applications, according to a district statement. But the delay, pushing the results from May into June, means some families are up against daycare and private school deposit and tuition contract deadlines for the fall.
“If we don’t know about OneApp, as of Monday we need to tell this school that we’re going to pay all of the tuition,” one mother told The Lens.
That’s more than a $15,000 decision, she said.
But she’s still waiting to hear if her four-year-old daughter got into one of the three public pre-kindergarten programs the family applied to, which they would not only prefer but would be a significant savings. She asked her name be withheld to protect her children’s identities and because her complaint is not about the schools.
The results have been delayed because the district closed its Family Resource Centers, where families can submit applications and verify documents in-person, due to COVID-19. The district was able to use state data to verify information for 550 families, but was developing a system for families to submit information online.
“Since Tuesday of this week, families have been submitting information online through NOLA-PS’ DocuWare system,” a district statement said.
The verification deadline has been extended through next week and results will be released mid-June.
“I’m frustrated because we wanted options. We wanted to make a choice,” the mom said. “And now we feel like we’re backed into a corner.”
The delay complicates everything she said. “This is like a chess game.”
The mother only received a direct communication from the district about the delay late Thursday afternoon, hours after The Lens first approached officials for comment.
“I want to stress that our family is in a situation where we can afford to go to a private school, but my frustration is that I’m expecting the district to deliver on something,” she said. “If we would have known even before I don’t know if we would have gone through all of this.”
She noted each of the three public pre-kindergarten programs is unique. Two required her to attend meetings, one required her daughter be evaluated and one is only half-day so she’ll need to secure a different daycare arrangement if her daughter goes there.
The city’s early childhood education network, a combination of private providers and public schools, does not have enough seats for all applicants each year, so the NOLA Public Schools district uses its centralized enrollment system, called OneApp, to run a lottery. Part of the process requires families to verify their eligibility, including income for certain seats.
“We felt it was important to ensure families who were unable to verify their eligibility due to citywide closures have the opportunity to complete verification virtually,” a district statement said.
Agenda for Children, which is the lead agency for the New Orleans Early Education Network, did not immediately respond to comment.
Early childhood programs require specific documentation, including the student’s birth certificate and parents’ income information. Some programs are reserved for low-income students.
“Historically, this has happened in person, and due to closures and shelter in place orders many families were unable to verify eligibility,” the district statement said.
Public schools were ordered closed in mid-March to slow the spread of COVID-19. The district closed its Family Resource Centers then, too.
But parents were only notified about the delayed results on Thursday afternoon, one day after the district posted an update on the OneApp website. However, applications were turned in in January, the mother noted.
“It’s because they had to find a program to let people securely submit their information,” she said the district email explained. “That doesn’t take two months. You had to have everything in by mid-January.”
“I know it’s been hard for everyone right now but there was no communication until 10 minutes ago we got an email,” she said.
“I want to be part of this system because we’ve had this amazing experience at our charter school,” she said. “I did everything I needed to do. I don’t understand why they couldn’t do that for the parents.”
Their older child attends Bricolage Academy but the school only offers pre-kindergarten to low-income students.
The verification deadline has been extended to June 2 at 5 p.m.