- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

A new report says D.C. neighborhoods are seeing rising numbers of households with school-age children. Overall, that’s pretty good news. Just don’t expect the families to stay put unless public schools drastically improve in a short time.

When parents of school-age children consider buying a house, condo or loft, one of the criteria at the top of their must-have list is great schools — and in this era of the universal pre-K movement, even more so.



Does the nearest school offer top-drawer academic programs? Does the nearest school offer arts programs? Physical education and athletic programs? Are the campuses safe and clean?

But we have to understand that school officials don’t necessarily consider those questions — or the answers to them — when drawing and redrawing school boundaries.

Parents of thousands of school-age children in Portland, Oregon, are miffed about proposed boundary changes, and perhaps rightly so, considering their children would have to travel to schools miles outside their neighborhoods.

Closer to home, parents in Loudoun County, Virginia, have similar concerns. Loudoun, which has an estimated population of 350,000, has 14 middle schools on the National Forum to Accelerate Middle-Graders Reform “School to Watch” list — and 14 is the most of any school system in America.

Interestingly, Loudoun parents were upset that school authorities were segregating elementary schools based on race, ethnicity and income as a remedy to stem overcrowding at one grade school. Under the plan, most of the affected children would have been black and Hispanic. A compromise plan approved by school officials this week substantially modifies the redrawn boundaries.

Conversely, D.C. Public Schools drew up boundary plans in 2014 that will could leave parents scrambling when classes start this summer.

First of all, understand that D.C. officials don’t want kids to necessarily attend their neighborhood school (charter jealously is a reality, not a perception). Consequently, parents have to enroll in a lottery and pick first, second and third preferences.

School authorities also consider whether a student is “at-risk” — that is to say on food stamps or welfare, homeless or in foster care, living in “transitional” housing and the like. They also factor in whether English is spoken as a first language in the home.

And whether the child attends or wants to attend a dual-language school also is taken into consideration.

By the time low-income and/or illiterate families figure out where the roadblocks are, they scream instead for a voucher — and who could blame them?

Implementation of the D.C. school-boundary plan actually began in 2015, but other phases continue over the course of the next few years, including legacy enrollments, which allow a sibling the opportunity to attend the same public school as a sister or brother.

The bean counting education have to carry out during discussions on school-boundary changes is an enormous and questionable undertaking, mostly because authorities are trying to articulate something they imagined as part of the Supreme Court’s Brown v Board of Education ruling in 1954. But it’s just their imagination and more a contrivance of political correctness.

Shortly after the 2020 presidential election, the school-boundary conundrum will resurface because of census numbers, and by then those families will have figured out whether their neighborhood or chosen schools live up to their expectations.

For sure, the generation before them did, and they packed up their station wagons and SUVs and moved to the suburbs because D.C. schools suck.

The saving graces this time round are free universal pre-K, charter schools and vouchers.

The D.C. bureaucracy is not trained to think long term, even to consider a measly five or eight years out, around the time parents start looking for great public middle schools.

As it is, the District took 10 to 12 years to begin bragging about the city attracting tens of thousands of millennials and empty nesters. To boot, D.C. Public Schools remain the same.

These D.C. residents are going to move — sooner rather than later.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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