Tear Down School District Lines

Why do we treat our poorer school children like animals?

Think about it.

We confine pigs in pens, chickens in coops/houses, cattle in fenced pastures, and children in school districts.

Not a valid comparison, huh?

Well, poorer school children have the same choices about where they’re cooped up as pigs, chickens, and cows…none. “The man” decides where they stay.

For school districts, “the man” is government. Government draws the lines and makes the rules that pen up children in school districts. A child can live two blocks from a school but have to ride a bus for 45 minutes to another school because that school district line – that indelible, invisible line – is sacrosanct.

Why? Because government says so.

Why? Because.

Or, and this is my favorite, because federal courts say so.

Lots of school district lines were drawn by federal courts decades ago to wipe out segregation. The goal was to fence-in children of different races to accomplish social integration in schools. The long-term outcome has been to trap poorer students inside lousy school districts.

The Greenwood Commonwealth said it well: “People of economic means can move to where the public schools are better, or they can enroll their children in private schools. The poor, though, without a charter school or a similar option, are stuck wherever the government tells them to go.”

The editorial argues for a more useful charter school law. The idea is that charter schools would spring up to offer alternatives to bad, I’m sorry, underperforming schools.

Maybe this is the way to go, but it will be expensive and take years to implement.

Why not consider a simpler alternative? Tear down those district lines. Free children to attend out-of-district schools. Let them pursue educational happiness where they will.

Bedlam would result, you say.

Not necessarily.

Begin slowly. Only allow out-of-district students into schools with excess capacity. Don’t provide transportation out of district. Keep the taxing system like it is. Just let the state dollars follow the student. The system will adjust itself as students and parents and impacted schools adjust.

While this won’t give every child an immediate option, it would be quicker and cheaper than charter schools, which may never serve poor, rural areas.

Of course, as the Governor’s Commission on Mississippi Educational Structure learned, not everyone wants to free up children to attend other schools. Those with better school districts don’t want theirs flooded with children from poorer districts.

“Don’t mess up good school districts,” pleaded one commenter.

Yes, the reality is school district lines are used to fence poorer children out as well as in.

Hmmm.

Let’s all hum “Don’t Fence Me In” as we pony up the cash for charter schools.

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