How about erasing the boundaries so that students in Austin can attend school in Oak Park legally?
Warren Buffett talks about people winning the genetic lottery — the children of wealthy people inherit a fortune that they played no role in accumulating.
The genetic lottery plays out in Chicago and Oak Park, too. Born on the West Side of Austin Boulevard? Your future looks bright. You will attend solid public schools and will likely go to college. In your lifetime, you will earn about a million dollars more than those without a college degree.
Born on the east side of Austin? Your future looks dimmer. On average, your public elementary school will perform poorly. Unless you are a star who matriculates to one of the high-performing, selective-admission public high schools, your options are slim.
An African-American boy on the West Side entering high school has a 3 percent chance of graduating from college and will earn far less in his lifetime than those born west of Austin. So the cycle of poverty grinds on.
You may be able to attend one of the high-performing charter schools in Austin, but a lottery is at work here, too. When applications outpace seats, the charter schools resort to a lottery to pick the winners.
A small number of Austin students will attend Catholic elementary schools such as St. Catherine's. These students are the beneficiaries of the Big Shoulders Foundation, which underwrites most Catholic inner-city schools.
Between high-performing public, charter and Catholic schools, there are not enough seats for all the young people in Austin. Here is my question: Are these students entitled to access to a quality education or not?
If the answer is yes (and I know most of you believe this in your hearts if not in your toes), then we have some options.
We can support reforming the Chicago Public Schools, while keeping in mind the words of the famous ward healer Paddy Bauler: "Chicago ain't ready for reform." We can also support adding more quality charter seats in Austin so more students have access to a quality education.
We can, like our neighbors in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, provide private school vouchers so that low-income students with limited access to quality schools can attend Catholic schools (and save the state approximately $10,000 per student in the process).
And I want to throw out one more incendiary device. Hold onto your hats.
If we believe all students are entitled to a quality education, low-income students in Austin who attend failing public schools should be able to attend any public school, whether it is in Austin or Oak Park or River Forest or another suburb.
Hear me? Take the $18,000 or so that Chicago Public Schools spends poorly educating these students and let the family decide where to spend it. If they see a better option in an Oak Park school, they plunk their $18,000 in District 97. (We could fix it so Oak Park schools take on only a certain number of Austin students.)
So here is my proposal: an educational system without borders where no student is denied a quality education based on the number of her zip code.
I can dream can't I?
Jack Crowe is chief operating officer and general counsel of the Cristo Rey School Network.
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