Should School Attendance Zones Have Boundaries?

House Bill 788, introduced Thursday, would break the link between neighborhood and school, allowing students with the right connections to attend a school outside their neighborhood. 

recent article in the AJC discussing House Bill 788 that is co-sponsored by Rep. Valencia Stovall has sparked some really interesting conversations about school attendance zones and enrollment. Rep. Stovall does a lot of advocacy and work around educational issues. I’ve attended her educational summits at the state capitol held during the legislative season for several years. House Bill 788 could be an innovative way to help with school attendance. However, as enrollment impacts school’s funding, there may be a challenge. Organizations such as GeorgiaCAN are currently advocating for equitable funding for all schools. The ideas of having school attendance zones that are open with no boundaries however could be a major challenge. School districts with different budgets, various schools i.e. charters, single gender, magnet/STEM based, private, etc based on attendance can be impacted. Federal funded programs, FTE counts and enrollment will also be effected.

The foundation for House Bill 788 is to provide support for parents wanting school choice. However, in my opinion this doesn’t help schools that are struggling academically. I think we should be cautious about recommending and making such changes without looking at the structures of public school districts and funding formulas. GeorgiaCAN also teachers students, parents and stakeholders who to advocate for educational equity. They also focus in on helping stakeholders identify language that can be progressive or condemning to educational reform. I dissected some quotes and statements from the AJC article below and weighed in on if the statements are progressive or condemning.

Progressive 

“A student shall be allowed to attend and be enrolled in the school for which a parent or guardian certifies that an individual residing in the school’s attendance zone has authorized such parent or guardian to use such individual’s address for purposes of establishing residency.”

Parents have been doing this for years! Using grandparents, siblings, cousins and church members addresses who live in communities where schools are thriving. So this statement makes sense. This language gives relief to this issue and makes it easier for parents to place their children in their school of choice. Smart move! I would add that to alleviate the ongoing issues of school quality, we should collectively advocate for ALL schools to provide quality instruction and programming that shrinks the achievement gap.

Condemning 

Poor kids, meanwhile, must typically attend a low-performing school in their neighborhood, unless they can get into a high-performing charter school or get a scholarship and admission to a private school.

The logic behind this statement contributes to why schools are failing. The assumption that “poor” kids typically attend a low performing school is bias and prejudice. It reinforces that schools are failing because socioeconomic. It also demeans public education making the assumption that all charter and private schools are thriving while public traditional schools are failing. As stakeholders and advocates, we must be mindful not to dehumanize children.

Condemning 

Critics of traditional public education say students in wealthier areas are served better since local tax dollars help to fund education, not to mention donations and community volunteering.

Schools in Georgia are struggling with equitable funding period. This is not just a public education dynamic. In fact, traditional public schools, M.A. Jones E.S. and F.L. Stanton E.S in Atlanta, Georgia both have strong community support and partnerships. Both of the schools are in the community I grew up in which has seen and survived the effects of gentrification and decline in recent years. However, the school leaders are mindful of not condemning parents and students with language that is demeaning to where and how they live. There is some truth to this statement. Schools in the North Atlanta cluster are served better because of local tax dollars, property taxes and businesses. Many communities where schools are struggling don’t have strong or existing business sectors and more rental properties than home owners. The schools are located in food desserts, where there’s sacred transportation and other socioeconomic boundaries that wealthier areas do not face. Even charter schools that have taken over once failing schools in the same communities are facing the same challenges. Therefore, I believe we should explore local tax dollars city and county-wide being distributed evenly for all schools to thrive. 

Here are Questions to Consider Regarding House Bill 788

  1. How will this bill impact public school districts in Georgia?
  2. Will this bill support all public schools or just public charters?
  3. Will all school districts be forced to implement this if passed?
  4. As this bill will affect school zoning will stakeholders have input?
  5. Will local school boards be allowed to determine if this fits the design of their districts?
  6. How will this bill increase or decrease school enrollment?
  7. Will this bill help with transportation?
  8. How does or can this bill impact school funding?

Possible Benefits of Open Attendance Zones 

  1. Parents can choose to place their children in schools closer to their jobs.
  2. Teachers and educators could send their children to schools they work at.
  3. All parents have access to school choice without barriers
WHAT DO YOU THINK?

Jason has worked in education for over 15 years as a teacher, blogger and community advocate. He speaks and writes primarily about the need to improve education for Black boys, particularly increasing the number of Black male educators in schools. In addition to blogging here at EdLanta, Jason is also a featured writer at Education Post.

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