Commentary

Sacramento School District Restricts School Choice

In Elk Grove, California …

On Tuesday, trustees voted unanimously to cap the number of students who can transfer from their neighborhood school to another through open enrollment at 5 percent.

Last school year, 240 children normally bound for Eddy chose open enrollment. Most went to Elizabeth Pinkerton Middle, a new school in the neighborhood. For the coming school year, an additional 240 children that automatically would have gone to Eddy applied to go to another school.

The cap was hotly debated Tuesday night. Supporters of the cap praised the academic rigor at Harriet Eddy and its diversity. Those against the cap said the school is unsafe and poorly administered.

But providing an equitable education to all students at all middle schools ultimately trumped parental choice.

“I will not stand by and let a couple of schools deteriorate as a board member,” said trustee Chet Madison.

As usual it’s about the school buildings and the employees and not about the kids.

It shouldn’t be about NOT letting schools deteriorate. Obviously, they have already deteriorated if parents do not want to send their children to the school. Many urban districts are moving to complete open enrollment systems that let parents choose between district schools regardless of the student’s residential assignment. Places like Denver, Baltimore, Oakland, and New York City give parents a choice between district schools. Residential assignment is convenient for the school bureacracy, but it hampers honest discussions about which schools serve students best within any given school district.

Lisa Snell is the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Snell has frequently testified before the California State Legislature and numerous other state legislatures and government agencies. She has authored policy studies on school finance and weighted student funding, universal preschool, school violence, charter schools, and child advocacy centers.

Snell is a frequent contributor to Reason magazine, School Reform News and Privatization Watch. Her writing has also appeared in Education Week, Edutopia, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications.

Ms. Snell is also an advisory board member to the National Quality Improvement Center for the Children's Bureau; is on the charter school accreditation team for the American Academy for Liberal Education; and serves as a board member for the California Virtual Academy.

Before joining Reason Foundation, Snell taught public speaking and argumentation courses at California State University, Fullerton. She earned a Master of Arts in communication from California State University, Fullerton.