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Doctor's Note: Open Enrollment for Our Schools

The ongoing school closures here in Virginia have widened even more the achievement gap in school districts across the state, particularly among low-income and minority families who can’t afford to hire tutors, create pods, stay home from work, or put their child into private school to ensure their child is learning while schools remain virtual.

We have long known there is a systemic disadvantage in public education based on where you live. If you look at the data from VCU, within the city of Richmond, a child’s zip code can determine your life expectancy by a difference of up to 20 years. Coupled with the high number of failing schools, too many children have their life trajectory determined before they even have a say in their future.

Horace Mann, a pioneer of American public schools, said “Education is the great equalizer.” If we want kids to dream bigger and have their chance at the American dream, then we have the obligation to give them all of the resources and building blocks to succeed.

There is no reason we should continue to require children to go to school based on their neighborhood especially when the data shows profound inequity between neighborhood schools. This requirement has helped keep generations of families trapped in the same cycle of poverty and inopportunity. Some families control for this by moving to a neighborhood that feeds to a good school, but many families can’t do that. Unfortunately, too many families in Virginia are left with their zip code giving them a vast advantage or disadvantage in life.

This session I have introduced legislation, SB 1317, giving students that qualify for free or reduced lunch, a statewide marker for children that are low-income or high-risk, the ability to request a waiver for another school within their public school district. It is well beyond time we allow for intra-district transfers within the same locality.

Given what we have seen this school year with schools staying closed and the disparities and inequities that have been created and accelerated, it is critical we revisit the discussion about how we ensure equity in education and that every child has the ability to succeed regardless of where they live.

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