Decr⁠i⁠m⁠i⁠nal⁠i⁠z⁠i⁠ng Publ⁠i⁠c School Enrollmen⁠t⁠: No More L⁠i⁠nes

December 13, 2023

December 13, 2023

Education should be available to all. That’s why yes. every kid. pursues policy change across the country, to ensure that public schools are truly public. Just in 2023, states like Idaho and West Virginia opened public school access to every kid, empowering families to more closely match their child’s unique needs to the school they choose.

Despite recent progress, only eight states empower every family to decide which public school their child attends. Instead of being truly open to the public – like a park, library, or hospital – more often, arbitrary district lines separate kids from a public school that fits their needs.

Yet, opening public schools to every kid is popular across the country. A poll conducted in September 2023 by YouGov and yes. every kid. foundation. found strong support for open enrollment—policies that allow students to enroll in public schools outside of their residential district.

Because public schools turn kids away based on where they live, families will claim residence in a neighboring district to enroll in a setting better suited to their kids’ needs, even as they face dire consequences for doing so.

According to a report from Available to All, 24 states view this practice – also known as “address sharing” – as criminal. Several parents have been subject to criminal investigations, private investigations, lengthy legal processes, charges of felony theft, and even in jailtime due to these laws.

source: Available to All, “When Good Parents Go To Jail”

In 2011, Kelley Williams-Bolar was jailed for 9 days after enrolling her daughters in a safer school, zoned to the town in which her father lived, just outside Akron, Ohio. She would have had to live with a felony conviction for life but was granted clemency by then-Gov. John Kasich.

Hamlet Garcia, a resident of northeast Philadelphia, was prosecuted in 2012 for using his father-in-law’s address to enroll his daughter in a public school within a suburban district just outside the city. He was charged with felony theft. To avoid a daunting seven-year jail sentence, he accepted a plea deal and agreed to pay the district nearly $11,000.

A report by WHYY found that school districts’ efforts to remove students accused of living in the wrong town disproportionately affect families of color and those economically less advantaged. This makes sense. In many cases, address is a proxy for family wealth or income. Is denying families open enrollment of public school a new form of redlining?

Transformation is Possible

So far, only one state, Connecticut, has acted to lessen criminal penalties for address sharing. In 2011, a high-profile story broke of a homeless mother who was arrested and charged in-part with first-degree larceny for enrolling her child in a public school using her babysitter’s address. In June 2013, the state legislature changed the law to make address sharing for public school enrollment a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

When we dissolve the lines that separate communities, families will seize their power to find their kids’ ideal learning environment.

No More Lines.