The Hill: Public school district boundaries are a relic of the past

Originally published by Aaron Garth Smith and Christian Barnard of the Reason Foundation, on February 25, 2021 in The Hill.

Nearly a year into the COVID-19 crisis, communities across the country are challenging long-held assumptions about public education, including the role of district boundaries in shaping everything from funding to educational opportunities. In an era of increasing customization and technological resources — and in a moment where students log on to classes remotely and parents are disagreeing on school reopening strategies — the absurdity of assigning kids to schools based on arbitrary and often unfair lines is more apparent than ever.  

Lawmakers in various states — including Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas — have taken notice and are prioritizing legislation that would allow students to more easily transfer to schools outside of their residentially-assigned districts, which is commonly referred to as open enrollment.

Open enrollment is the least talked about form of school choice, perhaps because of an underlying — and mistaken — assumption that public schools are already open to all comers. The reality is that despite the growth of choice policies such as charter schools and tax credit scholarships, public education is still tethered to real estate. 

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