Public School Choice
August 22, 1996
Last weekend I drove to Raleigh to shop for groceries. Imagine my reaction when the cashier asked for my identification. He told me that since I did not live in town I could not buy groceries there.
"What", I said? I prefer your fresh meats and esoteric vegetables. And your prices are lower".
"It doesn't matter", he said. "It's a new policy. It's based on the American way. Everyone is now going to shop where he lives. The County Commissioners have created shopping zones. No more going from town to town to 'cherry pick' the best deals."
"But your store is on my way to work. It is more convenient for me to shop here."
"It doesn't matter", he said. "The government thinks you should shop in your own community and not try to get an unfair advantage over someone else just because you have a car."
"But", I replied. "This is not the American way, freedom for all."
"Listen buster. I don't know what America you grew up in. The grocery stores in your town are going to go to pot if we are allowed to 'skim the cream' of the best customers."
Have your ever heard such an insane conversation? American citizens would never put up with such a system for groceries. But we do with our public schools. Each school district has mandatory attendance zones. It does not matter whether that school is the best for your child or for you. If you are on one side of a line drawn on a piece of paper your child will go to that public school and no other. I reject the entire concept of "cherry picking" and "cream-skimming" as demeaning to any person.
Next time you pass one restaurant to go to another or the next time you drive to a move theater on the far side of town instead of one closer to you, give thanks that the people who thought up the school system don't control the entire economy.
Maybe you can urge your school board to adopt an open enrollment policy on a first come, first serve basis. Perhaps those who attended the year before might have priority or perhaps those with a brother or sister would have priority for the same school. And of course no one could claim entitlement to transportation at public expense to go to a more distant school. But the principle is sound. Let's get freedom - American style - back into school assignments with open enrollment.