Thursday, July 26, 2018

Public School Registration

It's that time. The local newspaper is loaded with notifications from all local school districts that it is now time for registering your student for school.

That means mostly kindergarten registrants, though it could be any grade. But here are some things that will not happen during this period:

* No parents will be handed complicated paperwork as part of the beginning of a long application process.

* No parents will be told there are no more seats available.

* No parents will be told they must enter their child in as lottery.

* No parents will be told that the school cannot (and will not) offer programs to deal with that child's special needs, so so sad, too bad, seeya.

* In fact, weeks or even months from now, no parents will be told that they missed the registration period so they are locked out of the district until next fall.

This registration period goes straight to the heart of a difference between public schools and charter schools. Charter advocates like to talk about students "trapped" in certain zip codes, but the beauty of the US public school system is the guarantee-- the guarantee that whatever your zip code, there is a school that will take your child in (or at a minimum, help make the arrangements necessary to get your child an education-- and pay for them).

If, due to some bizarre set of circumstances, 150 kindergarten students show up to register in your tiny district, the school doesn't get to say "We don't have that capacity-- go away!" They have to find or make the capacity.

Are there public schools that try to weasel around this requirement? Sadly, there are. But parents can take these schools to court. It's an unnecessary barrier that parents should never have to surmount, but compare it to charters, where if the school refuses to offer the special services a child needs, the parents' recourse is... well, nothing. Vote with your feet.

And yes, some of you will point out that some urban systems (looking at you, NYC) have hoops and paperwork and applications that rival anything a charter system ever thought of, and I'll point out that A) that's a bug, not a feature, and it ought to be changed, B) not all of the US is urban, and C) this is one of the way that some public school systems have made themselves vulnerable to charter challenges-- by losing sight of their real mission.

That's the promise of US public education-- wherever you are, wherever you live, wherever you have chosen to raise (or move) your family, right now, there's a school district where you can walk in and say, "I want to register my child for school," and they have to say, "Okay." And that is true all year. When charter schools can match that, then we can start talking about their claims to being public schools.

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