For years, Wake County, North Carolina, has had a “busing” policy aiming to create socioeconomic diversity in county schools. The district’s experiment to better integrate schools left many students having to take long bus rides to schools far from their homes. “Parents and residents … said busing for the purpose of economic diversity poses an unfair burden on families, in terms of costs to the district and in time that children could spend on learning rather than being transported,” according to an account in the Christian Science Monitor.

The current school board wants to bring the busing days to an end, with an eye toward policies that will better integrate schools while empowering parents and meeting the needs of all students.

The board voted in 2010 to rescind the busing policy and set a 15-month deadline for replacing it with a new policy. The transition has caused tensions to rise in Wake County, but the school board is laying the groundwork to provide families with quality schooling options and educational choice.

A plan submitted in February to the Wake County School Board by the Wake Education Partnership and Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce “provides more parental choice and naturally fosters diversity.” A summary of the assignment plan states:

This proposal, made in response to the school board’s request for input on student assignment, provides the stability and predictability families need without sacrificing the quality of educational options in any part of what is a large and growing county.

The summary continues with these specifics about the plan:

  • “Gives parents more control over where their children attend school.
  • Provides more school choices.
  • Emphasizes proximity without the use of mandatory attendance zones.
  • Allows families to remain in their chosen schools unless they decide otherwise.
  • Promotes diversity of all types, but does not pursue diversity as a goal in and of itself.
  • Redefines school assignment in a way that clearly makes student achievement the top priority for every child.”

Wake County Public School System Superintendent Tony Tata is aiming for approval of the plan by mid-June.

Ultimately, the Wake County School Board proposal is a community-based parental choice model. The proposal puts all schools in choice-based system, providing families with a choice within the district, while giving preference to siblings and a family’s proximity to the school. The plan would “provide every family in Wake County with a choice of ten elementary schools, five middle schools and five high schools while increasing transportation efficiency.”

Having a county bus children to a school—in some instances over an hour away—is not the answer to creating more diverse learning environments. The main focus should not be on the distribution of children but rather empowering parents to choose a quality education. The power should ultimately reside in the hands of the parents to choose the school in which their children can best excel.

School choice, not the central planning that comes from policies such as busing or assignment-by-zip-code, ultimately fosters innovation and leads to academic achievement increases for all children. And school choice has many forms, including innovative practices in online learning, which are beginning to catch fire across the country.

It’s exactly these types of innovative practices that can become available to students when robust school choice options are in place. And hopefully for the students in Wake County, the board’s move to end bureaucratic busing policies will usher in something far more effective than the status quo.

Anissa Borchardt is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: