The Inequities of Inter-district Public School Choice

Like a statewide voucher program, an inter-district public school choice program permitting students attending a failing local education agency (LEA) to attend any neighboring LEA within a 20 mile radius lacks educational and taxpayer equity, and does not provide an equal educational opportunity for all students. Asymmetric information would adversely affect school choice especially among economically challenged families. Not all students have equal knowledge of or access to desirable alternative traditional public schools (TPSs).

Quality alternative TPSs may not be equally available within a 20 mile radius. More affluent families would have higher quality information on alternative TPSs and greater means of enabling their children to attend a choice school such as through family provided transportation. If parents pay tuition to the choice district rather than their failing district, and the tuition is more expensive in the receiving district’s TPS, children of more affluent families would have an unfair and unequal opportunity to attend choice schools compared to poor children.

If full transportation subsidies or free and accessible public transportation are not provided, economically disadvantaged children will lack an equal and equitable opportunity to participate in inter-district public school choice. Not all students would have equal access to private or public transportation including public light rail. If failing school districts were required to provide or pay for transferring students’ transportation, failing schools’ costs would increase especially if transportation expenses were not capped or if the state or federal government did not pay transportation expenses.

Several aspects of the inter-district public school choice program would cause taxpayer inequity. Taxpayer inequity would result when poor parents are unable to send their children to choice TPSs due to their inability to afford the choice TPSs’ tuition or lack of affordable accessible transportation. Taxpayer inequity would result when taxpayers living in the same catchment area have unequal and inequitable access to desirable alternative TPSs. Taxpayer inequity would result should host district residential taxpayers pay higher (or lower) property taxes than out of district school choice parents for the same kind, size, quality, and location of property. Affluent parents can use their disproportionate resource advantage to obtain a superior education for their children while children of parents unable to participate fully or fairly in the choice program would receive an inferior education by continuing to attend failing TPSs even though both families may live in the same catchment area.

State law requiring chosen target TPSs to accept transferring students, even if capacity constrained, results in taxpayer inequity. Forced acceptance of transferring students could result in TPS or district overcrowding. Grade congestion could result should a disproportionate number of students transfer into only a few grades by school or district. Overcrowding could result in higher class sizes, building expansions, or new school facility acquisition or rentals. Overcrowding would diminish the quality of education causing an exodus of students to alternative choice districts.

Incremental teachers, aids, and administrators might be hired to accommodate increased enrollment. Increased personnel and facility costs would most likely require property tax increases. Larger class sizes, TPS or district overcrowding, lower educational quality, and property tax increases would combine to lower local education’s capitalization in district property values. This would cause the relatively more mobile host district taxpayers to vote with their feet. Also, state law requiring chosen target TPSs to accept transferring students may violate court ordered desegregation plans.

Like the statewide voucher program, the inter-district school choice program would divert scarce resources from failing TPSs to choice TPSs. The failing schools would lose enrollment based state and federal aid commensurate with lost enrollment. Failing districts may be failing because they were traditionally under resourced. Failing TPSs may have become failing because their district lacked the property tax base with which to generate the revenues necessary to provide an educational quality commensurate with affluent districts. State and federal governments may have contributed to the under resourcing by providing aid that did not account for the lack of a proper per pupil tax base and did not fully fund the needs of all students.

Poor school quality is capitalized in housing prices making housing values low in failing school neighborhoods. Low assessed housing values keep district property values low. Those who can vote with their feet move to districts providing housing and schools meeting their preferences. White or middle class flight exacerbates the decline of neighborhoods as jobs and capital exit with them. Taxpayers are investors who want their major asset, their home, to appreciate in value. Home owners or catchment area residents have a vested interest in the success of their local TPSs. Whether living under a statewide voucher program or inter-district choice program, homevoters (see Fischel, 2001) strive to offset risks to their community-specific social capital and property values which cannot be easily diversified.


Fischel, W. A. (2001). The homevoter hypothesis:  How home values influence local government taxation, school finance, and land-use policies. Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.



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