News hit area list servs a few days ago that Alexandria City Public Schools has a new way to deal with over-crowded neighborhood schools. Instead of figuring out a way to have more classes (using portable classrooms, like neighboring Arlington County does, for example), they’re planning on implementing a lottery for every Kindergarten student who registers to attend an over-crowded school. As with all lotteries –there will be winners and losers – and in this case, there will be people who will be bussed away from their neighborhood school, into a less crowded school. According to the list-servs I’ve been watching, folks are not happy.

The policy reads:

“If a school exceeds capacity for kindergarten prior to June 15, then all kindergarten applicants will enter a lottery for random selection. Every student will be assigned a rank through the lottery (with siblings in the same grade having the same rank). Students will be placed in the home school until all slots are filled according to rank. The remainder will be re-assigned to another nearby or contiguous school.”

The implications here are profound. Imagine, for example, the loser in this lottery. This child misses out on the opportunity to walk to school with friends and be all but guaranteed to have a friend in walking distance. The parent misses out on the ability to knock on a neighbor’s door some morning when her baby is sick and her school-aged child needs an escort to school. Even worse, a child may spend a substantial amount of time getting bussed to an out-of-neighborhood school – time that could be spent sleeping, playing, or just enjoying a walk outside!

Even people without young children will be affected if the stated policy becomes practice. Property values can be highly influenced by the quality of a neighborhood school. But once the notion of a neighborhood school vanishes because families living close to the school can no longer be assured their children will attend that school, property values may well plummet.

No, it’s not fair that some children have automatic access to better neighborhood schools than others. But this policy doesn’t even consider addressing these disparities. Children who don’t live in the neighborhood of an over-crowded school don’t even get a shot at the lottery.

ACPS – this policy is the least creative way possible to solve school overcrowding. Rather than implementing this policy and focusing on designing new bus routes, school administrators need to figure out a way to make all ACPS schools desirable places to attend so families stop feeling like they have to move to a small number of neighborhoods with decent schools.