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Message to bureaucrats: ‘Controlled choice’ is an oxymoron

Poll after poll confirms parents overwhelmingly support school choice. From poor academic performance to safety concerns, families—often from communities of color—are fleeing their neighborhood public school in search of a learning environment that better serves their children.

But public education bureaucrats are working to squeeze out school choice, reports the Reason Foundation, under the guise of desegregation through “controlled choice.”

Yes, parents still get to “choose” their desired schools, but public education bureaucrats get to “control” the final outcome. And lately, from New York to San Francisco, Charlotte to Polk County, the main criteria that matters is not student performance, but race.

In 2007, the Supreme Court barred school districts from assigning students to schools based on race. So instead they use income as the primary determinant, and characterize the resulting admissions changes as “desegregation.” The goal is to have poorer kids, homeless kids, and English-language learners spread evenly among schools, while crossing fingers that parents won’t bolt and all schools will improve.

So how has “controlled choice” worked out in the world? The Cato Institute’s David J. Armor looked at a half-dozen controlled choice districts and found that enrollment went down, richer families fled, and schools didn’t even end up more integrated!

Parents don’t enjoy being controlled. Instead of limiting them to schooling options that don’t meet their children’s needs, leaders and policymakers should provide families better access to their school of choice. Why do bureaucrats get to decide where someone else’s child goes to school?

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