Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

One of the good bills introduced in the General Assembly this year would bring a measure of competition in public schools. Put in by Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg), SB 552 would require school districts to allow students to attend any school in the district. Currently, districts are allowed to adopt such open enrollment policies, but are not required to do so. Typically, students must attend the school within the attendance zone where they live.

The legislation would enable an elementary school student in the eastern part of Henrico County, for example, where the reading scores in schools are very low, to attend an elementary school in the western part of the county, which has schools with high reading scores. If the requests for “nonresident” students to attend a particular school exceed that school’s enrollment capacity, a lottery would be used to decide which nonresident students got to attend that school.

The legislation directs the State Board of Education to develop model policies and guidelines to implement the legislation. Under the provisions of the legislation as introduced, the Board would have to act quickly. The bill requires the policies and guidelines to be adopted by August 1, 2024, to enable the open enrollment process to be in effect for the next school year, 2024-2025.

The main obstacle to parents being able to take advantage of open enrollment, of course, is transportation. In the Henrico example, it is a long drive from Varina to the West End. The legislation specifies that the model policies and guidelines set out “responsibilities relating to school transportation for a nonresident student.” State law does not require school divisions to provide transportation for students; it only authorizes it. Conceivably, the Board could require local schools to provide transportation for nonresident students if they provide transportation for students within an attendance zone. That would be the fair approach. After all, if a student in the West End is able to ride a school bus to Maybeury Elementary School at public expense, Henrico should also provide transportation for a student who lives in Sandston to attend that school. However, to ensure that the Board could adopt such an approach, it would be best to amend the proposed legislation to make that clear.

Making a county or city responsible for transportation of nonresident students would inevitably increase the overall transportation costs for the school district. It would also ultimately be a fiscal impact for the state as those increased transportation costs are reflected in the basic aid formula for schools. Perhaps those increased transportation costs would be an incentive for school districts to improve those neighborhood schools that parents are fleeing.


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Comments

22 responses to “Competition for Schools”

  1. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    There are obvious problems with this proposed legislation at least two of which have been mentioned. But at least it is a start of an important discussion.
    Charter schools and choice options exist because of a demand for higher quality education for our children.
    Before passing any legislation, there should be a careful analysis of how to improve the quality of education in all schools. Recruiting the best teachers is one action but parents have a very important role to play. Indeed, it may be the failure of some parents that is pulling down the quality of education in some schools since public education has to be available to all.

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    On a somewhat related note, legislation has been proposed to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all public school children in Virginia, not just those in need.

    Two year cost: $346M

    Youngkin was right – the surplus needed to be rebated to the taxpayers. Allowing politicians to be in the vicinity of surplus funds all but guarantees they will dream up ways to spend those funds.

    https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?241+cab+SC10111SB0283+SBREF

    1. Makes it that much easier to keep them drugged and compliant…

    2. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar
      f/k/a_tmtfairfax

      Free lunch for all will cost a lot more than the legislation’s sponsors predict.

      https://www.cbsnews.com/minnesota/news/minnesota-program-to-provide-free-school-meals-for-all-kids-is-costing-the-state-more-than-expected/

    3. A use for the casino profits?

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Ha ha. Maybe. I hear the latest casino brouhaha is over a casino planned for Tysons / McLean. It would apparently be part of a redevelopment plan that includes the tallest building in not only the DC area but in all of Virginia and Maryland too.

        The local anti-casino NIMBY’s are apoplectic over the idea. Some absurdly cite increased traffic as the basis for their apoplexy. Seriously? The 600 ft tall tower is fine but a casino will overwhelm the roads?

        Meanwhile, the financially failing Metro is seen as the reason this gigantic mixed-use tower will be able to handle the increased number of people going in and out each day.

        https://ggwash.org/view/74454/the-view-at-tysons-will-be-the-tallest-building-the-region

        1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
          James Wyatt Whitehead

          Tysons Corner in 1956. Might as well at some pot retail and a brothel or two.
          https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/c85e265bafedb64bd5ebb4cb02fcbb6352bca5d5df3abb2007c99d805789dff4.jpg

    4. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar
      f/k/a_tmtfairfax

      Free lunch for all will cost a lot more than the legislation’s sponsors predict.

      https://www.cbsnews.com/minnesota/news/minnesota-program-to-provide-free-school-meals-for-all-kids-is-costing-the-state-more-than-expected/

  3. Ronnie Chappell Avatar
    Ronnie Chappell

    A good idea, but there won’t be money for transportation for poor kids trapped in bad schools because the General Assembly want to provide free breakfast and lunch to rich kids in good schools.,

  4. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    I certainly support the concept and have often argued for it to my own school board. I don’t, however, support the state legislature usurping the authority of my locally elected representative (no matter how good the idea). I hope it fails.

  5. Not Today Avatar

    Personally, I would love to see intradistrict transfers become a mandatory option, to include transportation, as well as doing away with magnet programs and make the courses involved in them open to all enrolled students. If the students fail, they fail. I am not in favor of gate-keeping.

  6. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar
    f/k/a_tmtfairfax

    Minnesota has the “Open Choice” program that “allows students and parents to have access to schools that are not within their resident district. This program allows student enrollment from one school district into another. In the 2020-21 school year, more than 86,000 Minnesota students, or 9.9%, are open-enrolled.” Authorizing legislation has been on the books for a long time.

    Several of my Minnesota nieces and nephews took advantage of this program.

    https://education.mn.gov/mde/fam/open/

  7. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    As an advocate of school choice, it appears this bill is an attempt to minimize the negative response from school boards. Toss in transportation and it would immediately fail.

    Good try on the part of Youngkin, but I agree with Eric, it should fail. I don’t think that making sure that Youngkin can claim that he mastered school choice is a good idea.

    If you are going to do something, do it right. Everyone knows that if a school on the west end holds 600 and there are 599 students now, a district will have to make a lot of paper rattle for one and only one student.

    Common sense tells me this is a Fake Bill. Sheep’s clothing on a fox.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      You may be right. I don’t seem to be as cynical as you.

  8. Conceivably, the Board could require local schools to provide transportation for nonresident students if they provide transportation for students within an attendance zone.

    On the other hand, an argument can be made that the school system already provides transportation for every child to one of its schools. If parents/guardians want to send their child to a different school from the one assigned by the school system, then they should be responsible for getting the child to the alternate school. In my opinion, that would be fair to all parties.

    And I am with Eric on this one. The state government should allow for, offer some funding for, and even encourage, public school systems to adopt policies permitting school choice within their individual systems. However, the decision whether or not to participate needs to be made at the local level.

    1. Not Today Avatar

      I do not agree that it should be optional. Part of some locales annexing extra territory was to get the $$ that follows the kids but not provide equitable access to programs and services. 60 magnet slots at a high school with 1500-2500 kids is laughable. When I was in school, intradistrict (not inter) transfers were easily requested and obtained with transportation provided either by school or free city bus pass. parents in ‘have’ schools will vociferously oppose access to their schools by low-income, primarily minority kids.

    2. Not Today Avatar

      I do not agree that it should be optional. Part of some locales annexing extra territory was to get the $$ that follows the kids but not provide equitable access to programs and services. 60 magnet slots at a high school with 1500-2500 kids is laughable. When I was in school, intradistrict (not inter) transfers were easily requested and obtained with transportation provided either by school or free city bus pass. parents in ‘have’ schools will vociferously oppose access to their schools by low-income, primarily minority kids.

    3. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      “On the other hand, an argument can be made that the school system already provides transportation for every child to one of its schools. If parents/guardians want to send their child to a different school from the one assigned by the school system, then they should be responsible for getting the child to the alternate school. In my opinion, that would be fair to all parties.”

      When adopted by our system, this is where they landed and where most school boards would land, imo.

  9. LarrytheG Avatar

    most school districts go through a fairly rigorous process to determine the school boundaries – primarily based on population. They try to level out the school population.

    They could take a few transfers but if there was a lot, it could overwhelm the receiving school.

    I’m not saying don’t do it but if you are going to do it, it will require some significant changes in the ways that are currently used to set boundaries.

    I thought this was one of the original premises of the NCLB program but somehow, it never got implemented.

    Much of this could become moot if Va moves away from SOLs measurements and to more vague ones, so parents may not know just how badly their kid is doing.

    Additionally, kids in poorly performing schools may well have parents who don’t have the ability to transport their kids every day , twice a day.

    I’m with Kathleen, if you’re going to do this – do it right and that looks like a tall order to me.

  10. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    Wisconsin has had a program for decades to allow kids in Milwaukee to enroll in suburban districts. It works. No chance that would pass in Viwith the fierce opposition of urban Democrats who care only about teachers’ unions, not the kids.

  11. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    Wisconsin has had a program for decades to allow kids in Milwaukee to enroll in suburban districts. It works. No chance that would pass in Viwith the fierce opposition of urban Democrats who care only about teachers’ unions, not the kids.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Don’t know how they manage enrollment in Wisconsin but in Virginia, they draw boundaries based on the capacity of the school. Those boundaries are a big deal especially when over time the county grows and the boundaries have to be rejiggered because some schools have gotten over-capacity and the district has to be redrawn and usually smaller as the density has increased.

      They simply won’t have a lot of extra room in some cases – without having to shed some students and redraw the district lines.

      Parents who already have kids in a particular school do not like it when boundaries are re-drawn and kids have to go to a different school that has different teachers and lose all their friends.

      If I recall, this was one of the intentions of the original NCLB law , i.e. parents could send their kids to a “better” school in theory but for some reason , it never really happened.

      There is the issue of transportation also. Again with districts, buses usually serve just that school district. They don’t drive across multiple districts picking up kids that will not attend the nearest school.

      These issues go to the locally elected school boards and the supposed opposition from teachers is not in play.

      But the involvement of parents is very much.

      So what happens is that the school boards have to come up with additional money to add capacity and buses or the receiving schools will be overcapacity and parents will have to transport their kids. This works for parents who have good paying jobs and flexibility in their work hours. Not so good for folks in the lower incomes who won’t have such flexibility.

      Once again, to remind, I AM IN FAVOR of Choice/Charter schools when the kid is in a poorly performing school and the kid has poor SOLs scores AND the Charter/Choices cannot discriminate against who enrolls, has to meet the same academic performance metrics as public schools and cannot boot kids for poor performance (that’s on that school just as it is for public schools poor performance).

      Now that Youngkin has shown his true colors in gutting VDOE and supporting changing the SOLs to a less accountable system – I wonder what things will allow kids to transfer if their academic performance metrics are less accountable than the current SOLs.

      Ironic that Youngkin aused the SOLs and NAEP scores to justify changes ostensibly to “help” the kids but instead essentially compromising the utilty of the SOLs.

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