Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Criminality of Choice

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Leondre Washington was removed from Ladue school district without due process because his family lives in Normandy. Read the whole story here.

In a city that has gotten a lot of national recognition for its crime rate, there is a new criminal-at-large: students who want a good education.

In 13 other states there are options for students who are unhappy with the quality of education in their neighborhood. Those states recognized that education is a right that we recognize as a nation, and that if the public education system we have created doesn’t do that, we can’t sit blithely by and say, well, we gave it our best shot. Instead, those 13 states have implemented a spectrum of choices for those students that they may claim that right.

Normandy is a school district spending more than the state per average daily attendance, and substantially more than the state on teacher salaries. Their ACT composite scores are well below the state average, along with their graduation rates. According to NCLB yearly progress report, they are not meeting standards in communication arts, mathematics, attendance and graduation.

And yet a student who seeks out a better school district is violating the law. In a country whose genesis was based on religious freedom, which has worked for generations to offer choices to its citizens because choice is an integral component of individual freedom, this shouldn’t be happening.

Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe writes:

“Nobody would want the government to run 90 percent of the nation's entertainment industry. Nobody thinks that 90 percent of all housing should be owned by the state. Yet the government's control of 90 percent of the nation's schools leaves most Americans strangely unconcerned.”

The desire for a better education should not be stifled, and not only because it’s a right. Education is a building block for cities. In St. Louis, city development is hindered by the lack of choice in education. People want to work downtown, party downtown, eat dinner in the city, but they don’t want to live in the city because of the dire state of its public education. Not to mention the correlation between dropout rates and incarceration.

In other states Leondre would have the option to go to another school that was performing better. Those states see education budgets increase, public schools perform better and cities themselves become a more desirable place to live. Why not here in Missouri?

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