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School Choice is Inevitable

Despite the shortcomings of allowing parents to send their children to schools that they alone believe best meet their needs and interests, the movement will not die. The latest example comes from California ("California bill to extend school choice law faces allegations of inequity," Los Angeles Times, Aug. 30).

The "district of choice" law permits students who live in one school district to cross the boundary to enroll in another school district.  To date, parents of about 10,000 students in California have taken advantage of the law to enroll their children in 47 participating school districts.  They do not need permission of their home districts to do so. However, if a receiving district gets more applicants than it has room for, it must hold a lottery.  The home district cannot refuse to let students leave unless it can show that the exodus is so large as to do financial damage.

But because time and money are involved in driving students, opponents claim the law is unfair.  I acknowledge that this is the price paid.  However, with few exceptions, those who participated left low-performing home districts for high-performing receiving districts.  Isn't it unfair to prevent them from getting a better education elsewhere?  

Although the district of choice law is in the news today, parents have long been using other ways of enrolling their children in better schools.  Often referred to as residency fraud, parents have falsified documents in order to enroll their children in neighboring, higher performing school districts ("The Latest Crime Wave: Sending Your Child to a Better School," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 1, 2011). Such "grand theft education" is evidence of how desperate parents are to flee terrible schools.  Recognizing the problem. some districts have officers who do nothing but check out home addresses to verify their authenticity.

I believe that eventually parental choice will become a right.  There will continue to be heated battles, correctly arguing that it is not perfect.  But the present system is too egregious to let the less than perfect be the enemy of the merely good.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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