- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 3, 2004

D.C. parents are scrambling to exercise their rights to school choice, but thanks to the D.C. Board of Education, their public-education options are dwindling.

For several years now, charter schools have been the No. 1 choice for parents, drawing thousands of students off the enrollment roll each year. This school year will see a new twist, when, for the first time, low-income parents can use publicly funded vouchers to send their children to private schools. However, the parents of other children who are being left behind in low-performing D.C. Public Schools are now out in the cold because school officials have failed to reform the system and because the school board has established ridiculously restrictive policies regarding student transfers.

The school board changed out-of-boundary regulations in 2002. The change was a slap in the face in response to pro-choice parents and to the Bush administration, which succeeded in 2001 in passage of the federal the No Child Left Behind law (NCLB). That law mandates that school districts give parents options if their children are trapped in troubled schools, by allowing parents to transfer children to better schools in their own or another district, or accommodating them by providing tutoring for those students, among other things. Officials running D.C. schools have long opposed choice despite the fact that D.C. students have consistently ranked at or near the bottom on standardized tests.

This school year is no different. In fact, for the second year in a row, 68 of 149 schools failed to measure up and, consequently, are considered by NCLB standards to be “in need of improvement.” A small majority of the parents of those affected children should be able to enroll their children in schools that did make the grade, but they cannot because of the transfer rules.

The D.C. transfer rules grandfather in siblings and further slam the schoolhouse door by mandating that children seeking transfers either live within walking distance of the new school or have attended a cluster or feeder school. If those rules held true for high schools, there likely would be no Wilson High in Northwest Washington and no Spingarn High in Northeast Washington.

School board member Tommy Wells, who represents the Capitol Hill Cluster, told The Washington Post that the problem is “less money.” On the contrary, the problems are the board’s policies and lack of foresight. No amount of money can change that.

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