Coalition opposes residency requirements in public schools

A coalition of more than 40 education advocacy groups has banded together to challenge enduring residency requirements that restrict children to their local public schools, preventing them from transferring to potentially better-suited alternatives.

The No More Lines Coalition, as detailed on their website, is determined to eliminate what they view as discriminatory district boundary lines in all 50 states by 2030.

Members emphasize that prior attempts to tackle this issue have been feeble and unsuccessful. According to a 2022 report, 43 states permitted students to transfer within their district, while 19 states and D.C. allowed transfers elsewhere. However, many of these programs are voluntary for receiving schools, sometimes requiring approval from the student’s home district or tuition fees for families making the switch.

Several programs do not offer an avenue for parental appeals.

“The current open enrollment laws are inherently flawed and restrict,” remarked Tim DeRoche, president of Available to All, a participating coalition member. “They are specifically limited in numerous states.”

Advocates for robust open enrollment laws point to a recent survey of 1,000 individuals nationwide, revealing that two-thirds supported allowing children to choose any public school in the state, with 76% of Black respondents favoring this access.

An organization supported by the Charles Koch Foundation, yes. every kid, which advocates for expanded educational opportunities, spearheads this initiative. Coalition members engage policymakers and issue reports scrutinizing state laws that criminally prosecute parents for using falsified addresses to enroll their children in public schools.

They also address how states can counter the lingering effects of redlining, an age-old discriminatory practice influencing current educational disparities and zoning constraints.

Jorge Elorza, CEO of Democrats for Education Reform and coalition member, emphasized the necessity for children to access schools meeting their educational requirements.

“It boils down to broadening family options over the schools they can select,” he stated.

Efforts such as those by yes. every kid involve collaborating with lawmakers in South Carolina to promote open enrollment legislation.

Erica Jedynak, the group’s COO, highlighted recent legislative changes in Idaho that enhance children’s opportunity to enroll in preferred schools.

In Idaho, parents must currently apply for transfers, with preference given to those within the home district. Requests can be denied if the student has disciplinary issues, a history of absenteeism, or if the new district lacks capacity.

Disputes against zoning regulations have surfaced in various regions, including New Jersey, where the Latino Action Network and NAACP filed a lawsuit in 2018 alleging school segregation due to residency mandates perpetuating inferior schools for Black and Latino students. A judge reached a partial decision on the case last autumn.

Adversaries of open enrollment laws express concerns about siphoning high-achieving students from underperforming schools, but coalition members clarify that not all families seek to transfer their children from struggling schools even when granted the opportunity.

According to Jedynak, students who feel supported by educators tend to remain in place, but robust enrollment policies necessitate public schools to enhance or specialize in attracting students.

Arizona’s public schools, known for relatively lenient enrollment rules, have been marketing themselves to students for several years.

Derrell Bradford, president of 50CAN and another coalition member, recounted his family’s efforts to secure a better middle school for him outside their local Baltimore zoning limits.

While his aunt found a way for Bradford to attend a magnet school, not every child has relatives familiar with this process.

“This is a concealed yet perilous problem many American families navigate constantly,” he remarked. “It is widely recognized but seldom discussed.”

According to Bradford, school choice predominantly benefits the fortunate and the affluent, leaving others behind, with some resorting to illicit means for their children’s education, leading to severe repercussions.

Unauthorized address sharing can result in legal ramifications, as witnessed in Kelley Williams-Bolar’s case, where she was incarcerated in 2011 for sending her daughters to a non-zoned school outside Akron, Ohio.

Williams-Bolar stressed that parents should not face penalties while striving for a brighter future for their offspring.

“This is not about malice or theft but securing a promising education,” she emphasized, noting the shared dilemma within her community. “Every parent wishes to provide their child with the finest education.”

If this entails revising longstanding admission norms, Williams-Bolar supported such changes.

“It is time to reassess, reimagine, and evolve,” she concluded.

Disclosure: Yes. Every Kid. is part of the broader Stand Together Trust network, which financially supports The 74.

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