While many kids have sent their wish lists to Santa Claus, millions of kids around the country are wishing for an even more important gift this year—the chance to attend a good school.
Brooke Dollins Terry of the Texas Public Policy Foundation published an important report documenting the long waiting lists at the Lone Star State’s charter schools. She found that: “Last year, 40,813 students were on waiting lists to attend a public charter school in Texas,” This number is more than double the 16,810 students the previous year.” Texas is not alone with its long waiting list. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, an estimated 365,000 students were on charter school waiting lists this year.
At these over-subscribed charter schools, lotteries are generally held to decide which lucky kids get the chance to attend. This means that whether or not a child has a chance to attend a good school often depends on whether their ping-pong ball or number is chosen randomly out of a box. That’s right: their futures are decided by chance.
Of course, lotteries are also held to determine which children get to participate in over-subscribed private school choice programs. For example, in 1999, the non-profit Children’s Scholarship Fund announced that it would award tuition scholarships to 40,000 low-income students across the country. More than 1 million children applied. Lotteries were held in participating cities. In Baltimore, for example, more than 40 percent of eligible children applied. Oversubscribed voucher programs like the DC Opportunity Scholarships have been forced to hold lotteries to determine which lucky kids get to attend private school.
Something is seriously wrong with American education when whether children have an opportunity to attend good schools is left up to chance.
This holiday season, elected officials across the country—from school boards to state houses to Capitol Hill—should resolve to answer children’s wishes to attend good schools by reforming education policies to give all families the power to choose the best learning environment for their children. For starters, they can do this by enacting private school choice policies like scholarships and tax credits, by allowing more high-performing charter schools to open, and by expanding access to online learning and virtual education programs. No child’s future should be determined by a lottery.