When Districts Choose, Kids Lose

School ChoiceWhat if you were awaiting a letter to find out where local officials were going to send your child to school next year?  What if one of the possibilities was a school that had more violent incidents than days of school?

Last month, Erie School District announced the pending closure of three elementary schools and the elimination of grades six through eight at three other schools.  One of the closing schools is Burton Elementary School, which was in the bottom 5 percent of schools in academic performance in the 2009-10 school year, when it also had the dubious distinction of being the fifth most violent school in Pennsylvania (a fact which the Erie School District superintendent publically scoffed at when confronted with a CF report on school violence last fall). 

Closing one of the most violent elementary schools in the state doesn’t rid Erie of failing schools, though.  In the 2010-11 school year, seven schools in Erie School District failed to have more than 60 percent of their students at grade level in reading.  At these same seven schools, 670 violent incidents were recorded in just one school year. 

As schools close and attendance boundaries change in the Erie School District, parents are left with little to do but wait and see where district officials will send their children.  For many, where these lines are drawn is a matter of failure or success, safety or compromise.  “Basically, we had no choice,” Laura Anderson told the Erie Times-News. “My daughter would have gone to Wilson (Middle School) over my dead body.”

Sound dramatic?  Think again.  Last school year, Laura Anderson’s daughter would have had a one-in-two chance of being involved in a violent incident at Wilson Middle School.  More than 250 violent incidents were recorded in the school that year.  Anderson is choosing to send her daughters to a private school instead. 

Unfortunately, the district didn’t announce the closings and boundary changes until weeks after deadlines for the Catholic Diocese of Erie and Earned Income Tax Credit scholarships, making it impossible for those without the financial means to afford a private school to choose a safer option.  As it stands, parents have yet to find out where their children will be assigned.  The district says parents will be notified by June 30.

Without school choice, students in Erie School District – and in failing schools throughout the state – are at the mercy of the five digits in their ZIP code.  With school choice, parents in Erie could rest assured that they have chosen the safest and best school for their child, regardless of what schools close or where new boundary lines are drawn.