There is no clearer image of the failure of Michigan's public education system than that of a school official knocking on doors and asking to see children’s bedrooms to catch families that are simply trying to provide the best education for their children.
The Grosse Pointe Public School System has gone to extreme lengths to make sure that certain students don't attend their schools. To that end, Chris Fenton, a deputy superintendent in the district, has effectively stalked children.
Fenton told Bridge magazine that he has sat in his car outside of suspected nonresident students' homes on dark, early mornings to see whether a student comes out of the front door.
Fenton said that he has even peered through windows and has asked to see children's bedrooms. The fact that this is how Grosse Pointe's second-highest-paid employee spends some of his time is — to put it kindly — disappointing.
Grosse Pointe pays private investigators to investigate families suspected of nonresidency. The district investigated 239 students last year, and booted 41 out. It is deplorable that children are treated like criminals just because they want access to a better education.
Some families have gone to extreme ends to have their children attend Grosse Pointe schools in Wayne County. Fenton said he has seen children driven to a relative's house in the morning, hidden in the trunk of a car, so that they can appear to live in the district.
People who support keeping nonresident students out of high-quality schools say that it wouldn't be "fair" for nonresident students to attend if their families haven't paid property taxes to the district. But this is an outdated argument. Grosse Pointe gets about $9,000 per student from state and federal sources. Local property taxes amount to just $4,000 per student.
Fortunately, Michigan's education system allows some students the opportunity to choose among public school options. Choice is a fact of life for students in the Detroit area, where there are hundreds of charter public schools.
Many students in more rural areas are able to take advantage of open Schools of Choice policies to attend school in districts other than the one in which they live.
However, school districts still are able to block nonresident students from attending. In some cases, such as in the Birmingham Public Schools in Oakland County, officials allow nonresident students to attend, but only if they're able to pay $13,000 in tuition (or if they are one of the six nonresident students allowed to attend the alternative high school). That isn't an open-access system focused on helping students; that's an outdated public education system that effectively bars students below a certain income level from attending certain schools.
It's time to update Michigan's public education system to allow students of all backgrounds to have access to more school options. The best solution would be to allow all funding to follow students to the school of their choice — without limitation and without district ownership of students.
Imagine a high ranking school official who earns more than $200,000 per year staking out a child's home. In a better world, he would spend his time more productively, and parents would have no reason to hide the fact that they are pursuing the best possible education for their child.
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