The Richmond Register

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October 7, 2012

Supreme Court no friend of educational liberty

FRANKFORT — We’ve seen that many in Kentucky’s legislature and teachers unions are adamant enemies of school choice in the commonwealth.

The Kentucky Education Association has worked for years with powerful politicians to keep even the most rudimentary types of school choice – like the charter schools found in 41 other states and the District of Columbia – from winning out in Kentucky.

But a recent ruling has revealed another player in that axis against any type of educational liberty: the Kentucky Supreme Court.

The court’s verdict allows the bureaucrats who run the Jefferson County Public Schools to legally neglect the wishes of parents who have enrolled their children in the school closest to home. Instead, the school board is now permitted to force students on a bus that will coast right past their local neighborhood school and on to the other side of town – all in the name of some education elitist’s vision of diversity.

Why are the five justices so eager to jump on the same bus as those who run the failed JCPS system?

The losers in this case are parents who want their children in a school close to home so that the entire family can be involved in their education.

According to one of the two dissenters in the case, Justice Daniel Venters, the court’s decision is akin to the “surrealistic world of The Eagles’ song Hotel California.”

Just like that unfortunate hotel where visitors can check out any time they want but can never leave, the Supreme Court ruled that Jefferson County parents can “enroll” their child in their local school whenever they wish – but the child may never “attend.”

Yeah, you’re not the only one thinking: “that makes absolutely no sense.”

The justices fell back on a 1990 change that amended the law from allowing children to “attend” to one that only allowed them to “enroll” in their neighborhood school.

This was all done primarily to protect Louisville’s failed busing program, but could have consequences statewide for parents who move in order to enroll their children in a neighborhood school that’s part of a higher-performing district.

The whole line of reasoning is even more confusing than the attempts by teachers’ union bosses to explain why it actually benefits students for districts to reward teachers based on longevity instead of merit, prohibit the termination of under-performing teachers, and scoff at the notion that parents – not politicians, bureaucrats or even Supreme Court justices – know what’s best for their children.

In the past, parents with children in failing schools at least had the option of packing up and moving the family to a neighborhood with better schools. Some parents even dream of making such a move.

However, thanks to five justices in long black robes, those dreams went up in smoke – like the smoky exhaust expelled from one of Jefferson County’s road-worn school buses dragging students for miles on end out of their neighborhoods.

In fact, one of those Jefferson County deportation-mobiles recently overturned as a result of another one of its daily 16-mile treks busing students from one end of Jefferson County to another. The accident sent at least one child to the hospital and terrified the parents of the 48 students injured.

The court’s ruling ultimately bodes badly for the increasing number of Kentuckians committed to bringing choice – and reform – to an education system that has nearly doubled in real spending while remaining stagnant in its performance for more than two decades.

It also sends a clear message to all Kentucky families that the commonwealth’s highest court is no friend of educational liberty.

Jim Waters is acting president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com. Read previously published columns at www.freedomkentucky.org/bluegrassbeacon.

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