Public schools

D.C. Public School Chief Resigns After Sneaking His Kids Into Top School

Top public school officials will risk their careers to have school choice. Maybe they should let everyone else have it too.


Lorie Shaull/Flickr

The top public school administrator in Washington, D.C., resigned his position Tuesday, four days after it was revealed that he had conspired with another official to place his daughter in the district's highest-performing public high school. In the process, Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson bypassed the rules governing placement of district students in schools outside their own neighborhoods.

The other official, Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles, was forced to resign last week.

Wilson is the second consecutive chancellor to be embroiled in a school placement scandal. Last May, The Washington Post obtained a report from the city's inspector general revealing that his predecessor, Kaya Henderson, had helped influential D.C. officials get their children directly into the most desirable schools by bypassing the lottery system with so-called "discretionary placements." By the time the report became public, Henderson had already left the school system following a five-year stint in the top job.

On one level, this is maddening malfeasance. District residents have now had two consecutive chancellors, both of whom promised to be champions of reform and good governance, caught abusing their positions for personal gain in the same way. Families across the city with many fewer resources than these officials face the school lottery's notoriously long odds every year. Often, it's their only chance to avoid dismally underperforming neighborhood schools. That the people responsible for maintaining and operating that system are apparently unwilling to play by the rules they enforce is inexcusable and grotesque.

But it's worth pausing to ponder why Wilson and the others did this. In addition to being city leaders, these people are parents. They are fiercely determined to give their children the best chances at success that they can get. In D.C., placement at an out-of-neighborhood school can mean the difference between plentiful access to advanced course offerings and competent college counseling and no access to either.

At the end of the day, these self-dealing bureaucrats were trying to get what libertarians have long argued all parents deserve: meaningful choices about where to educate their kids. It's not enough to kick them out of office. We need to extend what was once their privilege to everyone else.