Can the school-choice genie be put back into the bottle?

Eric Ulas

Is school choice a genie you can put back into the bottle? The Dayton Public School District wants to try.

In addition to a large charter sector and strong private schools that can enroll children using the state’s EdChoice voucher (see below for the breakdown of publicly funded student enrollment in the city), Dayton has embraced intra-district choice by allowing families to send students to any school of their choosing within the district. 

Source: Ohio interactive Local Report Card; School Choice Ohio

Last week, the school board voted unanimously to support a proposal to require K-8 students to attend their neighborhood school, with the exception of a handful of magnet programs. The plan is intended to save transportation costs, and it surely would (the district spends about $13 million a year on transportation and is facing a $6.3 million budget deficit next year). But with these cost savings might come negative consequences. 

For example, currently a child in Dayton who moves during the school year can continue attending the same school, providing much-needed education continuity. Will the “neighborhood schools” policy require children to bounce from school to school as they migrate from home to home? And what of the impact on the racial and socio-economic composition of Dayton’s schools? Individual schools are sure to become less diverse as assignments are made based on proximity and not choice. The city has long-struggled with racial discord. What will the impact of this policy be on the community a generation down the road?

Last week the Dayton Daily News questioned whether the proposal will fly with parents. Fordham’s Terry Ryan commented, “This might have worked really well in 1985, but I’m not sure about 2010. Folks have grown used to choice, and they like it.” 

In fact, it could be reason enough for more families to pack up and leave the city altogether. 

Dayton’s population, like that of other Rust Belt cities, has plummeted in recent decades as jobs have vanished. An Ohio Supreme Court ruling last year that municipal employees cannot be required to live in the locale where they work opened the door for even those people who have reason to be loyal to the city to move out of it. If education options are restricted, might more Daytonians decide to depart?

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