When school choice confronts gated districts

Since the late 1800s, we have defined public education as being synonymous with school districts, but given the increasingly diverse delivery models that now comprise public education this traditional definition is no longer appropriate. We best define public education today as publicly funded learning options that are publicly regulated to achieve a set of democratic values and aspirations — most notably greater equity and excellence.

Ironically some school districts do not seem to meet this modern definition of public education. Consider, for example, the “gated” school districts in some suburbs. Recent redefinED posts about Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to allow cross-district school choice has drawn responses from suburban parents who say they want to keep their district boundaries fortified. “I chose to buy a home where I did because of the good schools,” one parent wrote here. “The children, for the most part, come from homes where the parents are professionals and value education. My concern is that parents who do not share these values will still take advantage of our schools. The problems of the Detroit public schools will become our problems.”

Convictions like these have become institutionalized by Michigan school boards, primarily in wealthy districts, opposed to Snyder’s proposal. The Grosse Pointe school board, just to name one, has now passed a resolution calling for the governor and the Legislature to respect the local community’s authority:

The citizens of the Grosse Pointe Public School System have chosen to make personal sacrifices, including but not limited to investing in premium housing stock … The Board of Education of the Grosse Pointe Public School System has never chosen to participate in the Schools of Choice program in large part to protect and respect these incremental investments made by our citizens to directly benefit our students …

Additionally, the Grosse Pointe Woods City Council followed suit with its own resolution, during which Mayor Robert Novitke said, “You can imagine what it’s going to do to your property values, your quality of life in this community.” And state Rep. Tim Bledsoe, a Democrat from Grosse Pointe, wrote in the community’s newspaper that, “We have for decades taxed ourselves more in order to provide the highest quality education for our children. To now have non-residents take advantage of our many years of investment simply by winning a lottery is outrageous.”

We respect a parent’s desire to do what’s best for her child, but the education system parents and school leaders here want to perpetuate is antithetical to equal educational opportunity and therefore is not truly public education, even though it’s a publicly funded school district.

As the Grosse Pointe school board correctly notes, neither it nor 10 other Michigan districts have chosen to participate in the state’s voluntary Schools of Choice program. They also happen to be among the wealthiest districts that border the City of Detroit and spend the most per pupil.

Political monopolies will always deliver superior services to those with the greatest political power, which is why public education should not be a politically managed monopoly. We don’t begrudge parents using their personal wealth to provide their children with the best education possible, but we support a public education system that ensures all parents, regardless of income or political status, will have access to the learning options they need to properly educate their children. Public education will never meet its obligations to our democracy if it can only be delivered through school districts.

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8 Responses to When school choice confronts gated districts

  1. Anonymous October 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    “Gated districts?” This is inflammatory and disingenuous language. You are trying to stir up ideas of class warfare. I live in one of the Pointes, where anyone is free to move if they so choose. The terms “gated” suggests that there is some sort of approval process that one must go through before moving in. That you have to resort to this nonsense proves how weak your argument really is. The fact is, the Pointes border the worst school district this nation has ever seen, so a sense of protectionism is understandable. DPS’s problems need to be fixed from within, not by leeching off what others have spent decades building and maintaining. In the meantime, anyone who lives in Detroit and wants their kids to go to school elsewhere can get out of the city anytime. Values are down in the suburbs. Take control of your situation and move out. This is America – there are no gates keeping you in, or out, except the ones you create in your mind.

    • Anonymous October 4, 2011 at 9:52 am #

      Might I also add that the City of Eastpointe, which also borders Detroit, has in the last few years initiated extra precautions to prevent non-residents from using false addesses to gain access to its schools. Why aren’t you complaining about this form of “fortification?” Maybe because the name “Eastpointe” (fka “East Detroit”) doesn’t call to mind those ostensible images of afflence that you so eagerly play on in your attempt to turn this into an issue of class warfare.

      What about the fact that the Grosse Pointe school district includes large portions of neighboring Harper Woods (as indicated in the resolution above)? Presumably, those citizens of Harper Woods who live within the Grosse Pointe school district are equally opposed to the legislation for the same reasons as the Grosse Pointers. Yet again, the fact that Harper Woods is a poorer city doesn’t fit with how you are trying to frame this discussion, so you choose to ignore their involvement.

  2. CHASE April 19, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    What’s the big deal? If you have money to pay $10,000 in property taxes then move on in!!! If you don’t …….STAY OUT OF GROSSE POINTE!!!!!

  3. Anonymous April 20, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    Nice try. I own a modest home in GP. My income would fall into the category of lower middle class. My property taxes are well under $3K per year. And I just moved there recently, so my taxes aren’t capped at a low amount simply because I’ve lived there for many years. What else you got?

    Well, let me answer for you: You’ve got a governor who just introduced a list of eight “best practices” for Michigan school districts, one of which is voluntary school-of-choice participation. Districts that meet six of the eight criteria would receive a $75 bonus per student from the state. He couldn’t get a law passed to make school-of-choice mandatory, so now he’s trying to incentivize it.

    But that’s just his short-term solution. That’s because the state has recently gerrymandered the state congressional districts to split the Grosse Pointes into two separate districts, each of which now includes sizeable sections of Detroit. The idea being that these new districts will be less likely to elect a representative who is as staunchly opposed to mandatory school-of-choice as our current rep, Tim Bledsoe.

    So, in response to a district standing up for itself against an unjust bill, the state government is attempting to use its superior power to run roughshod over the long-established rights of a local governing body. But go on, folks, keep those ignorant, classist comments coming. After all, you are the 99%!!

  4. Anonymous April 27, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    Troubling news from Lansing. The following is excerpted from an email sent to constituents by Michigan State Rep, Tim Bledsoe:

    “[O]ver my strong objections, the House leadership insisted on including Schools of Choice among the list of so-called ‘best practices’ for school districts to follow in exchange for an additional $75 in per pupil funding.

    During debate on House Bill 5372 on Thursday, I offered a simple amendment to remove Schools of Choice from this list of ‘best practices.’ This amendment was rejected….

    … While there is some flexibility in the current requirements, I fear it is only a matter of time before local districts will be forced to march lock-step to the whims of Lansing politicians. In my speech on the floor of the House to urge the passage of this bill, I asked my colleagues ‘what happened to the principle of local control?’

    Their silence should be deeply troubling for all Michigan residents.”

  5. Anonymous June 8, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    The most recent correspondence from Michigan State Rep Tim Bledsoe::

    “One of the most disappointing, and surprising, elements to the education budget was the so-called “best practice” language that emerged. Let me first mention that some of these “best practices” are “best” only in the minds of free market extremists who disdain public education.

    In an odd turn of events, the negotiated budget was worse than EITHER the House version or the Senate version, suggesting influence of Governor Rick Snyder. The House budget contained language requiring districts to perform six of eight “best practices.” The Senate eliminated the “best practice” language from its budget altogether. Hence, a budget that tightened criteria to seven of eight came as both a surprise and a disappointment.

    In order to qualify for an additional $52 in per-pupil funding, districts must adopt at least seven of the following requirements:

    Become a Schools of Choice district
    Offer comprehensive physical and health education
    Create an online citizens’ dashboard
    Hold their own health insurance policy
    Measure — or develop a plan to measure — student growth
    Provide online learning opportunities
    Allow dual-enrollment in post-secondary coursework
    While Harper Woods and Detroit Public Schools will be able to qualify for this funding under their current policies, Grosse Pointe Public Schools will likely, and properly, decline to become a Schools of Choice district. I understand that the specific requirements for providing physical education are problematic for the district as well, meaning that unlike last year using different criteria, GPPS will likely fail to qualify for “best practice” funding from the state of Michigan in the coming budget year.

    Ironic, isn’t it, that one of the premier school districts in the state cannot meet the state’s “best practice” criteria.”

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