Running Out of School Choice


Interesting account in today's Washington Post of the practical difficulties inherent in the school choice provisions of 2001's "No Child Left Behind" Act. Main dilemma: when kids get the federal right to opt out of awful schools, better schools either aren't available or refuse to accept them. An excerpt:

Weldon school officials attempted to negotiate a school-choice agreement with their counterparts in Roanoke Rapids, a predominantly white, middle-class school district on the other side of Interstate 95. They were turned down flat.

Weldon's request would "create an administrative nightmare," said Roanoke Rapids school Superintendent John Parker, who employs two investigators to ensure that children living in Weldon and surrounding Halifax County do not try to sneak into his schools. "There is no way we could accommodate all the students who want to come here, if we opened our doors."

The experience in Weldon suggests the depth of entrenched local opposition to school choice, as the Bush administration refers to its plan for offering parents an alternative to failing schools. It also illustrates the formidable practical difficulties in implementing the concept, particularly in small school districts.

Although the obstacles to school choice may be greater in Weldon than elsewhere, the number of students changing schools under the No Child Left Behind law is minuscule nationwide. In rural areas, it is often difficult for parents to find more acceptable schools without traveling great distances. Even in urban areas, good schools are often crowded and reluctant to accept students from "failing" schools.

Actual cash vouchers to make up for the money taken in taxes to support failing public schools, and to help jumpstart more private provision of education services, might help. Eliminating any hint of a requirement that any official, federally approved "educator" live up to the standards and structure of the typical school of today might also help make fresh options available to prisoners of the public school monopoly, helping us all realize that sitting for seven hours a day with 30 other kids in a room with someone talking at you isn't the only way to create an educated human. But that might mean the politically perilous choice of leaving teachers union members behind, so don't count on it soon.