Friday, October 28th, 2016

Parents are free to choose children’s schools


Parents are free to choose children’s schools
Many sending children to schools out of neighborhood

    Welcome back to school, everyone! OK, maybe not “back” for everyone. At your child’s school there are probably a few new faces. Or it’s quite possible that your child is the new face at school.
    A long, long time ago when I was growing up and went to school, the only way we got new faces in the classroom was when someone moved into the neighborhood.
    “Was it a one-room schoolhouse in a log cabin out on the prairie, gran’pa?”
    No, not quite. My grade school was a typical Milwaukee public school that by the grace of bureaucratic incompetence put me at a desk and chair for six years plus kindergarten.
    Parents had no control over which school their children attended. It was purely a matter of geography.
    The closest school to us when I was growing up was actually outside the zone where I resided. I was supposed to attend a different school, but they couldn’t figure out that I was supposed to attend there. Then my sainted mother went back to the nearest school and insisted they take me since the other school wouldn’t.
    I was in third grade when Milwaukee’s schools were integrated and white flight began. Some of my new classmates came to school on a bus from neighborhoods far away. The thought for some of their parents was that the far away school had to be better than the school in their neighborhood, so off the kids went.
    It was really the first time school choice was exercised. African-American parents decided that their children deserved a better school than the local school.
    (White flight prompted an entirely different and unfortunate kind of school choice. Parents moved out of Milwaukee completely to send their kids to different schools.)
    Now we have all sorts of school choice. We have open enrollment for different districts, charter schools, private choice schools in some districts, even online charter public schools. It’s an amazing mélange of educational options, and it only promises to get better.
    Guess what – parents like choices.
    Just the other day some friends of ours were telling me how happy they were because their youngest son made it into the Randall Elementary STEM school. Other friends of ours are also choosing different schools other than the neighborhood school for their kids.
    It’s to the point where none of the kids in my son’s Cub Scout den attend school together. I credit their talented den leader for keeping them all together all these years, despite his kids attending a different school, too.
    Statistically, it’s not surprising to see such mobility. A new study by the MacIver Institute says “261,301 Wisconsin school children are educated in a place other than their traditional, geographically-assigned public school. That’s up 17.7 percent from the 222,086 children from the last MacIver census.
    “Statewide, more than 25 percent of students exercised choice, and in Milwaukee, almost four out of every five students exercised some form of choice over where they’ll attend school.”
    Soon parents in the Racine Unified School District will have the option of private school choice for their children. In Milwaukee, the maximum income level has been raised and more schools are allowed to participate in the Milwaukee school choice program.
    Parents choosing better schools for their kids, getting involved in their kids’ education at its most fundamental level, is only going to grow.
    The teachers unions remain opposed to school choice. They label private school choice “privatization” as if that will somehow frighten parents back into the public schools.
    But the teachers unions also oppose public school choice, too. The state’s largest teachers union, WEAC, even sued to try to shut down the state’s online public charter schools like Waukesha’s iQ Academy.
    To them, it’s all about capturing as many little bodies as they can for the funding head count that keeps the pay, perquisites and protections going. It stopped being about educating the kids a long time ago.
    However, many of their members will soon be exercising choice, too, when it comes to paying union dues and recertifying the local unions. We’ll see what happens then.
    But it’s too late to keep the children hostage. Parents have discovered they have choices, and they want more.
    (James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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