Brittany Wagner

A public school rezoning issue is unfolding in New York City.

P.S. 199 is a National Blue Ribbon Award-winner with high state test scores, strong parent involvement, a high percentage of white students, and a low percentage of students qualifying as poor. P.S. 191 is made up of mostly poor, Hispanic, and black students from the public housing unit across the street. Because of overcrowding issues, P.S. 191, which sits within nine blocks of P.S. 199, may enroll wealthier students if the districts are rezoned.

Parental response has been mixed. Some want to erase the boundaries between the two schools altogether, allowing for a greater mix of students at each. Others say they’ll move to another school district or send their kids to private school if their children are sent to P.S. 199.

The story of P.S. 199 and 191 may sound familiar to residents of Saint Louis County and City. Here students may live within walking distance of one school but attend another, because of where boundaries are drawn.

For years, numerous groups have advocated for a unified district in the Saint Louis area, but as SMI’s James Shuls has pointed out, this solution is too pie-in-the-sky to make a difference for students who need better education options today. As an alternative, the St. Louis Post Dispatch Editorial Board proposed an open enrollment policy last November. “Districts would agree to a set tuition amount that would follow any student who wanted to cross boundaries. Transportation would be provided for those below poverty level,” they wrote.

Open enrollment policies have become more common over the past several decades. In 1988, Minnesota passed the first mandatory open enrollment law. By 2013, 21 states had allowed students to transfer from their home district to another school district. Some of these states, like Missouri, only allow students to transfer if their current district is failing.

But there are many reasons why a student would want to transfer to another school district aside from poor student achievement. A student might just live closer to a school within another district (this example also applies to students who live in rural parts of Missouri).

Another way to create more options for students would be to allow charter schools to operate anywhere in the region, and allow students to transfer across district lines to attend them. For example, if a charter school opened in the Bayless school district in Saint Louis County, students in the Affton, Hancock, and Lindbergh districts could apply to attend.

In the upcoming legislative session, I hope lawmakers consider the alternative to unifying school districts—expanding the state’s open enrollment policy to include not just students in failing schools, but all students in the Saint Louis area and across the state. 

About the Author

Brittany Wagner
Education Policy Research Assistant

Brittany Wagner was an education policy research assistant at the Show-Me Institute.