Two weeks ago, the school board majority voted to take two high-poverty areas and assign them to more distant secondary schools for the sake of achieving socioeconomic balance. Last night, that same majority supported liberally giving school choice throughout the district to families who have the means to provide their own transportation, regardless of its effect on socioeconomic balance.
The board also consciously chose to allow voluntary transfers into secondary schools even when the district knows that those transfers will worsen overcrowding in those buildings.
The plan that the board supported last night is outlined in this administrative proposal. The plan allows secondary-school transfers as long as they won’t push the receiving school’s enrollment over 95% of its future capacity, regardless of whether they overcrowd the building in the here and now. It allows transfers only if they don’t make enrollment at the departed-from school drop below a certain percentage of its capacity. Freshmen and sophomores will ordinarily not be allowed to transfer out of Liberty High in its opening year.
The plan would give the administration the discretion to permit exceptions to those rules on a case-by-case basis to students who could demonstrate that the boundary changes create a “hardship” for them. The board decided not (at least at this time) to adopt any criteria for what would count as such a hardship. (The longstanding policy of allowing health, safety, and security hardship transfers will continue.) Hardship transfers will not come with a bus, though, so they’ll do little good for anyone whose hardship is the transportation barriers created by the new boundaries.
In my view, setting the limit based on future capacity, rather than present capacity, makes no sense. For example, we have every reason to think that Liberty High’s enrollment will be well over its capacity by 2019-20. (This chart shows overcrowding just by projecting forward the number of students currently in the younger grades, and it does not account for likely growth in the North Corridor.) So if we allow freshmen and sophomores to transfer in to Liberty in 2017, we know that those students will put the building even further over capacity in 2019. But under the administrative plan, those transfers will be allowed, on the grounds that Liberty will someday have more seats—that is, in 2022, long after those particular students have graduated.
Similarly, the plan treats City High’s capacity as higher than it will actually be until it gets its addition five years from now. After months of trading arguments about how the boundary plan will affect overcrowding, the board seems to have decided that overcrowding isn’t so bad after all—at least when it accommodates families with means.
The plan makes a hash of the board’s rationale for its secondary boundary decision. The district will have succeeded in effectively taking school choice away from families who don’t have the means to get their kids to and from their preferred school, while providing it to everyone else. If you’re a well-off Manville or Shimek family who wants to transfer out of City and into Liberty—making the socioeconomic disparity between the schools worse—we’re fine with that. If you’re a well-off Wickham family who wants to transfer out of West into Liberty—making the socioeconomic disparity worse—we’re fine with that. But if you’re poor and have no choice but to rely on the school bus, you have to go to the more distant school, regardless of your judgment about what’s best for your child. And, by the way, if that school is Liberty, we hope you enjoy the overcrowding!
It’s harder and harder to see the board’s decisions as being driven by concern for kids from low-income families. I don’t know how we can look any Kirkwood or Alexander parent in the eye after these choices.