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Open enrollment: A key to excellence in California education

Imagine if government bureaucrats decreed that you could only shop at one government-approved grocery store or shopping mall in your zip code. Citizens would understandably become indignant and would not submit to such an overbearing regulation. Yet we tolerate it every day with our children's education- a key to their successful future.

In California, the school your child attends and their subsequent education is determined less by what best fits his or her needs, and more by what neighborhood you live in. In other words, California rations public education based on the mortgage a family can afford to pay-not on the efforts of schools working to attract and retain students. In no other area of our lives would we allow the government to so concretely decide what is best for our children.

Californians should expect nothing less than excellence in education, and the only way to do that is to stand up for the right of parents to choose the school they think is best for their children. Taxpayers in California fork over more money for education than anything else (a whopping $72 billion last year) and our teachers are paid more than in any other state. Still, a staggering number of California children are unable to read proficiently, lack an understanding of basic history and are unable to perform in the area of math and hard sciences. This is simply unacceptable.

Parents should have the freedom to enroll their children in the school of their choice, Which is why I have introduced the community college system works, the Open Enrollment Act (Senate Bill 266) would largely eliminate the school district boundaries that stop students from choosing the best school for their specific needs.

Not only will the policy of open enrollment open new doors for countless students across California, it will dramatically shift school accountability from government bureaucrats to the parents of students. This puts healthy pressure on public schools to perform well since parents would effectively have the ability to vote with their feet and take their children out of underperforming schools. Allowing public schools to compete with other publicschools will help California use the existing public education infrastructure more efficiently, by applying a market based model which encourages and rewards excellence in education.

Across the globe, we find that the most successful educational structures offer a broad spectrum of choice. Seven out of the 10 countries that outperformed the United States in combined math and science literacy among 15-year-olds had more schools competing for students, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). These countries include China, Japan, Hong Kong, and Germany, as well as former Sovietbloc countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, and Latvia. Even some developing communist nations offer more school choice than California.

Knowing that all parents have the right of exit if schools don't deliver means schools in these countries work harder. But here in California, schools have a trapped audience because California's public school system offers few alternatives. That is, of course, unless you can afford to move to a different school district or pay out of pocket tuition as well as taxes for schools that aren't working for your children. Unfortunately, most families are held hostage by their zip codes, forced to go where the government dictates.

As the state's student population declines, the state is in a new era of declining public school enrollment which is further exacerbated by parents choosing home school or private school over public. By giving parents more options, California's public education system could retain more students. In fact, research indicates that prohibiting parents from choosing a public school of their choice, largely fuels their move from public school to private. Open enrollment will help put a cap on the ongoing exodus of public schools.

For over twenty years, the California community college system has been operating effectively and efficiently under an open enrollment policy – and college students are far more mobile than K-12 students. After years of failing our kids, it is time for a new approach-an approach that holds schools accountable and embraces truly meaningful parental involvement. It is time we make excellence in our schools the standard. It is time to free our children from the arbitrary confines of the school district.


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