“Choice with Limits?”

This week, the April edition of the Heartland Institute’s education newspaper School Reform News ran an article on Eugene’s open enrollment system.

“Eugene, Oregon’s 4J school district is considering retooling its decades-old open-enrollment policy because schools there are becoming socioeconomically segregated,” Heartland’s Wendy Cloud reports.

“District officials say that’s not good and it’s their job to ensure the best educational environment by addressing the segregation. School choice experts say open enrollment makes schools better by creating healthy competition, and parents deserve to keep the option of placing kids where they want.”

Kelly McIver is the 4J School District’s communications coordinator. According to the Heartland article, “McIver said that the district is trying to find a balance, allowing choice with limits””such as enrollment caps””but ensuring no one school has such a high percentage of kids with intensive needs that all students suffer.”

Choice with limits?

Literally, “choice with limits” means choices for some, but not for all. Someone besides a child’s parents or guardians (the School Board, the District, the schools) decides which children have “needs” and which don’t, and what “needs” are more “important” than others’ needs. In practice, this means that the needs of individual children (as determined by their parents) are overridden by the “needs” of schools and districts.

Matt Wingard, Director of the School Choice Project at Cascade Policy Institute, pointed out to School Reform News that “it is common for school boards to try to engineer school populations to meet all sorts of cultural and political goals at the expense of parental choice.”

“Once people have choices, they sometimes make choices that the certified “˜smart’ people don’t like.”

What if the government randomly picked 100,000 Oregonians and let them buy gas any time they want, anywhere they want? The rest of us could only buy gas on our assigned day of the week, at the service station closest to our home. That’s choice with limits. And we’d have riots at the pump.

Oregonians need real education choices, such as a tax credit for qualifying education expenses that would free parents to send their children to the schools of their choice. It’s time to stop limiting the choices.

Kathryn Hickok is Publications Director, Development Coordinator, and Director of the Children’s Scholarship Fund-Portland at Cascade Policy Institute, Oregon’s premier free market think tank.