Bikes, iPads, gift cards among incentives KCPS using to try to boost attendance

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Kansas City kids could earn some high-ticket items for meeting what the state considers the minimum in attendance.

After a new report showing Kansas City Public Schools didn't tell the whole truth to the state when it comes to student attendance, Superintendent Dr. Mark Bedell detailed some of the incentives the district is now using to try to boost attendance without fudging the numbers.

Those include giving bikes, iPads, gift cards and other rewards to students who meet state expectations for attendance.

While some districts award students for perfect attendance throughout high school or their entire academic career, KCPS is awarding students who help them work toward reaching Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education standards.

Those standards call for 90% of students attending school 90% of school days and at least 90% of that day. The 90/90 standard means both unexcused absences and tardies count against school districts.

"That's what the goal is is to show up every day. The only time you aren't supposed to be here is if you are sick or if you are suspended," parent Danica Jones said.

But in announcing numbers were falsely reported before he took over, Bedell also explained the district has yet to top 80% attendance in his three years in charge.

"You have high mobility, high homeless rates, you have community factors beyond control of our children and some of our families that live within the communities," Bedell said. "Poverty is real and when you have extreme poverty like we have in some aspects of our city, you notice stability for those kids is often compromised."

At Benjamin Banneker Elementary, the principal  sent out a letter to community leaders in October explaining attendance was was critically low at 63%. He asked for support in daily or even hourly attendance incentives, similar to those being used at schools throughout the district.

"Those students have opportunities to win iPads, little devices. They have opportunities to do raffles to win bikes. We give out gift cards to kids to McDonald's and places like that, and it's something that's proven to help us right now," Bedell said.

Bedell said while some incentives come from money set side by the district, most come from partnerships forged by the Kansas City Public School Education Foundation.

Bedell acknowledged incentive programs might not be needed in districts where parents have more financial stability.

"Some kids need a positive reinforcement to feel like 'OK, I'm not doing it for no reason,'" Jones said.

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