Districts of Choice
The California legislature is considering whether to extend its inter-district public school choice program. I completely agree with this statement from the L.A. Times editorial supporting choice:
The best possible education for students should take precedence over attendance boundaries.
It would be great if Missouri were to follow suit, create districts of choice, and allow families to choose public schools without regard to street addresses.
St. Louis has the Voluntary Inter-District Transfer Program, but it doesn’t go far enough. For one thing, the eligibility requirements restrict choice to certain groups. Why shouldn’t a white, Asian, or Hispanic city student have the same choice as an African-American student to attend a suburban school? The situation is reversed in magnet school admissions, in which African-Americans are reduced to the lowest priority level. These admissions distinctions reflect someone’s idea of the “right” racial mix for certain schools — an idea that I find very distasteful, to say the least. Restricting educational options by racial group is even more repugnant than limitations based on address. It also makes no sense in a diverse city that’s home to many multi-racial families.
In addition to the race issue, the Transfer Program is inadequate because it doesn’t present parents with enough choices. Parents can choose to participate, but once they do they have little say in which suburban school their children will attend.
It would be difficult to institute a broad public school choice program in Missouri, because districts are wary and parents are used to the way things are. One small step would be to streamline the magnet school admissions process, doing away with tiers and racial preferences. Allow any child from the city or county, regardless of race, to enter the magnet school lottery on an equal footing with other students — or to enter a lottery for other SLPS schools. SLPS could then have the distinction of being Missouri’s first true district of choice.