CA law promoting school choice, competition barely used

CA law promoting school choice, competition barely used

Advocates of education choice in California have been fighting the good fight for decades.

They’ve gotten nowhere with school vouchers but have a strong record with charters — albeit a record that requires a constant struggle to defend against the hostility of teacher unions. The U.S. Education Department graphic below shows California to be among the better states in the nation when it comes to percentages of students in charters.

Figure 3. Percentage of all public school students enrolled in charter schools, by state or jurisdiction: School year 2011–12
Some 519,000 California students are in charters — and support for the idea of charters hasn’t been frayed in CA despite years of ad hominem CTA attacks. California saw plenty of new charters open last school year.

A school choice option the establishment shies from

But there is another front for choice in the education wars. Thanks to a state law that took effect in 1993, California has allowed school districts to declare that they are open to enrollment from students outside their boundaries. It was time-limited to end in 2009, but a new version of the law was adopted that year thanks to support like this L.A. Times editorial for the “District of Choice” option.

The Education Next’s summer 2014 journal points out two school “Districts of Choice” in the L.A. region — Riverside and Walnut Valley — that are drawing significant numbers of students from weaker neighboring school districts. The parents who take advantage of this option sure seem to like it.

But as former Wall Street Journal reporter June Kronholz notes in Education Next, very few parents even have the chance. The state doesn’t track “Districts of Choice” — and the numbers of them are small.

The District of Choice law was meant to encourage districts to compete for students by offering innovative programs and this-school-fits-my-child options that parents want. The law “could open a new era of entrepreneurship in education in which schools improve their programs in order to retain and attract students,” the Los Angeles Times editorialized.

So how many of California’s 1,000-plus school districts have declared themselves Districts of Choice?

Perhaps 31.

Why would that be?

As Kronholz’s essay notes, the logistical headache of constantly having to take a kid from within one school district to another and then back isn’t as acute in many parts of California, where there are so many small districts in densely populated areas.

Sweet inertia, and it feels so good

Peaches-en-Herb-Reunited-12205543So if that’s not the main reason, what would be?

How about satisfaction with the status quo?

When it comes being Districts of Choice, Kronholz matter-of-factly notes that “few districts see any advantage in promoting it and threatening their monopolies.”

The CTA, Tom Torlakson and all the other forces that make up the state education establishment might as well have an anthem.

I nominate a 2014 version of the 1978 “Peaches & Herb” hit “Reunited.”

Sweet inertia, and it feels so good.



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