In search of a better education Border-crossing: Enforce the rules, but let those willing to pay for choice do so.

February 09, 1997

THE CONTROVERSY spawned by reporter Marego Athans' recent news articles about Baltimore-area students sneaking into school systems other than their own demands discussion of long- and short-term answers to a serious problem.

Is there a way for families seeking a better education for their children to get it legitimately, without forcing other families to share costly school resources with those who have not paid?

One solution offered is fairly radical. Eliminate the borders and let funding follow the children, says Christopher T. Cross, president of the State Board of Education.

The idea is worth exploring as a long-range solution. Getting rid of school boundaries would profoundly alter the way education is funded and the way planners estimate for space and materials.

Few other places have gone that route. Parents will not easily relinquish the concept of a neighborhood school. Still, this idea deserves careful scrutiny.

Meanwhile, what do we do about kids who are crossing the lines right now? Some border crossing will always occur and we must be prepared to deal with it.

First, families willing to pay to attend a school should be able to do so, as long as there is room. Some counties, Baltimore and Carroll among them, do not accept tuition except in cases of hardship or other unusual circumstances. Tuition programs would require some additional bureaucracy, but not that much more than is required now for border policing.

Second, we must recognize that while the desire for a better education is a noble thing, people cannot be allowed to break the rules to fulfill it. While some counties are going too far with fines and other "get tough" measures, those who ignore school boundaries violate the rights of those who do follow the rules. Parents have a right to resent this. And school officials have a responsiblity to try to prevent it.

Pub Date: 2/09/97

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